By Joaquín Sarrión Esteve
“Drone Technology: a great future and a challenge for fundamental rights protection”
Although drone technology has a great future, drones are here right now. In fact, drone is one of the current technological devices with the greatest prospects for use. It is estimated that last year the drone business mobilized more than 7 million dollars worldwide in the distribution sector, and that this figure would approach 30 million dollars by 2021 with sales growing more than 7.6% annually.
I am leading the “Independent Thinking” UNED Research project on DroneLawChallenges, and living the opportunity of be a Bingham Centre International Visiting Fellowship this week (18 September-23 September 2017), in order to compare the drone technology regulation in UK and Spain.
Certainly, although its use is very widespread in the military field, it is in the civil field where its applications, with a broad range of use, present the greatest challenges. In fact, civil drone will include, for example, without being an exhaustive list: surveillance and security, journalism (called dronalism), photography, product distribution, civil engineering (including applications for air quality control, cartographic applications, applications for prospecting and the exploitation of mineral resources, hydrological, agriculture, control of works and impact assessments, heritage management, safety and rescue, agricultural uses, firefighting, etc.).
One of the first problems we encounter when we approach the study of drones is terminology (Sarrión Esteve, 2017: 104). In fact, very often different terms are used in multiple news articles and reports, communications and texts — terms that are not always synonymous. This is the case, for example, with the term “drones“, which is borrowed from English, or acronyms of names that are also English, such as UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), UA (Unmanned Aircraft), UAS (Unmanned Aerial System), RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) or RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System)
Therefore, it is certainly essential to make some precisions. When we speak of drones, we mean a UAV or UA, which is an unmanned aerial device or vehicle; while RPA refers to a particular type of drone, —UAV or UA—, which, in addition to being an aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicle, is also characterized by its ability to be piloted remotely. Finally, the acronyms UAS and RPAS identify the complete system, including the control system of the drones or UAVs, and of the RPAs, respectively.
Taking into account the popular use of the term “drone” it seems much more appropriate to assume it for academic terminology than the term UAV.
Moreover, we believe that it is important to specify that drones can be controlled remotely (RPA) and may also include an automatic flight program. In other words, all RPAs are drones, but not all drones are RPAs. It should be noted that while European Union (EU) regulation is very general in its reference to drones, as we shall see, domestic regulation, in particular the Spanish regulation is also quite general but only in relation to the military field, in contrast to the civil field where it exclusively specifically regulates unmanned aircraft subject to remote control, i.e., the RPAs.
Of course, we need to guarantee a safe use and fundamental rights protection in the civil use of drones. And in order to study the drone technology legal framework, and rights affected by the civil use of drones, it is important to take into account the multilevel methodologybecause we live immersed in a European legal space comprised of legal systems with different levels which are increasingly interconnected. Therefore, we need to take into account not only EU and national law, but also international law and obligations including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and other international instruments.
And certainly drone technology can affect rights as privacy, image, and data protection, etc.
There is a lot of research to develop in this field. Let’s do it.
Sarrión Esteve, J. (2017). El régimen jurídico de la utilización de los drones. Una aproximación multinivel a la legislación europea y española. Revista de la Escuela Jacobea de Postgrado, 12, 103-122.