Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Drone traffic management: Privacy plays catch up in India’s drone automation plans

Provisions under India’s proposed data protection Bill will be followed for maintaining the privacy of individuals whose sensitive personal data has been captured by drones, a new discussion paper floated by the Civil Aviation Ministry said. However, the paper, which deals with automating and securing drone operations, was silent on the blanket exemptions available to government bodies from adhering to provisions under the bill, and whether there will be any additional safeguards around drone data collected and processed by law enforcement agencies.

This is significant, given that the government can potentially use drones for mass surveillance exercises, and citizens should be offered adequate safeguards against such practices. However, the discussion paper offers no such respite. Also, while the current draft of the data protection bill mandates consent be sought from people before collecting their sensitive data, the discussion paper does not explain how consent will be sought when drones are flown over hoards of people.

Not to forget, government agencies could deploy drones over protestors, as they have already done several times, and be exempt from adhering to provisions of the privacy bill by conducting surveillance under the guise of “public order”.

The Civil Aviation Ministry, on November 30, floated a discussion paper for a national unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) policy. UTMs are essentially traffic management solutions for drones, akin to how airlines have an air traffic management system. The only difference is that UTMs automate the process of managing drone traffic in a given airspace. By means of this discussion paper, the government is taking a significant step into proposing processes to automate drone operations, while highlighting relevant stakeholders, and how they will integrate.

02/12/20 Soumyarendra Barik/Medianama

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