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EU says drones will have to comply with data protection rules

Matteo Natalucci Published 30 November 2017

The European Parliament agrees first ever EU-wide rules for the civil use of drones covering issues of safety, security and personal data protection


The first ever EU-wide regulations for the civil use of drones were agreed today by European Parliament and Council negotiators to enhance citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and data protection, to security and to safety.

Currently, drones lighter than 150kg, fall under the jurisdiction of national authorities and therefore EU manufacturers and operators are subject to different design and safety requirements.

According to the new informal agreement the design and manufacture of drones will have to comply with EU basic requirements on safety, security and personal data protection. However, there are no specific references yet to drone manufacturers and users’ compliance burden in relation to forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

EU countries will need to ensure that operators of drones that can cause significant harm to people, i.e. present risks to privacy, security or the environment, are registered. These drones will also need to be individually marked to be easily identified.

According to the proposed regulation, the unmanned aircraft will need to have the corresponding and specific features and functionalities that  mitigate risks pertaining to safety, privacy, protection of personal data, security or the environment, arising from the operation.

The European Parliament aim is to provide a uniform level of safety across the EU and greater clarity to drone manufacturers and operators to help in boosting the sector. 

The agreed regulation also updates EU safety legislation for the aviation sector. With air traffic set to double in the next decades, the aim is to create a more flexible, risk-based system at EU and member state levels, which allows potential threats to be identified earlier, while maintaining a high level of safety and ensuring that European industry remains competitive.

Specifically on data protection, in June 2015, the EU Commission published an analysis on 'Privacy and data protection implications of the civil use of drones'. It concluded that a series of pre-conditions still need to be addressed in order to ensure that drones respect citizens' fundamental rights to privacy and data protection, to security and to safety

Rapporteur Marian-Jean Marinescu said, “Provisions on drones constitute the first EU-level rules for these new participants in air traffic. The rules will ensure safety, security and protection of privacy for EU citizens.”

Civil drone technology could account for an estimated 10% of the EU aviation market within the next 10 years (i.e. about €15bn per year). According to the Commission, the drone industry could create some 150,000 jobs in the EU by 2050.

The EU Commission has been tasked with defining more specific requirements, for instance on what kind of drones should be equipped with features such as altitude limits, maximum operating distance, collision avoidance, flight stabilisation and automated landing.

The Commission has called upon organisations involved in drone design, production, maintenance, operations, related services and training, to establish a safety occurrence reporting system, that could, in theory, include cyber security breaches.

The provisional deal now needs to be approved by the Council of Ministers (EU governments) and the European Parliament as a whole, before it can enter into force. That is likely to happen sometime in 2018.

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