Legal challenges in use of drones


There has been an increased usage of drones — also known as unmanned aerial vehicles — in various sectors. The increased uptake of drones by different businesses will assist those businesses attain a competitive advantage.

Drones are aircraft that can be controlled remotely by an authorised person to enable them fly independently. Drones have several advantages to businesses and this is the reason they have diverse usage.

Drones have been used to access areas which are difficult or risky for direct human access. Some examples include archeological sites and even construction sites. Drones have been deployed to capture data in archeological sites. Drones have been deployed in real estate developments where aerial views are made.

Similarly, drones have been used in filming and journalism. Usage of drones for filming has been made much easier by deployment of drones.

Drones are used in farming. Crop spraying drones are increasingly being used to spray large farming areas.

Drones have also been deployed for deliveries. During the lockdown, drones were used to deliver food and medicine in affected areas. Rwanda and Ghana turned to drone delivery of vital medicine in remote areas.

The customer would send a text message of the order and the drone would deliver the medicine within minutes. Drones have also been used in security for surveillance.

A business in any one of these sectors can take advantage of the new technology to attain a competitive edge. For example, a filming company can deploy drone technology to give better services to their customers.

Drone usage however raises a number of legal and ethical challenges. A prudent drone user would be careful to minimise the ethical and legal risks. One legal challenge is the risk of the drone causing personal and property related injury thus exposing the owner to torts liability. An example is if the drone trespasses over a person’s land.

Case law in different jurisdictions has held drone users liable for the tort of trespass where the drone flew over private property and collected data without consent. Drone usage could also create the risk of the tort of nuisance and noise pollution. It is therefore important to stick to legal precincts when deploying drones.

Drone usage carries a high risk of breach of privacy. Drones can be used to spy and collect unauthorised information. Even if they are not used to spy, a lot of data can be collected by drones. The constitution guarantees citizens the right to privacy and this includes data privacy.

The drone user should therefore adhere to privacy laws even while using the drone. The owner ought to be cautious how data collected by the drone shall be used. For example, he should not mine that data or sell it due to privacy rights of the subjects.

Ethical issues arise in the manner a drone is used. For example, it should not be used to spy.

Kenya passed the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) Regulations in 2020 allowing for drone usage but under very strict terms. There are very strict licensing terms that cover diverse areas from importing the drones, selling them and using them.

The drone owners have to meet technical and operational requirements before a licence can be issued. The pilot operating the drone must also be licensed.

Strict terms are imposed on manning the drone. It cannot fly beyond a certain height and beyond the prescribed geographical area. Data usage of data derived from the drone is also regulated.

Drones cannot be operated by children or persons living outside Kenya. Drones must be registered as airworthy before they can be deployed.