The Ministry of Civil Aviation has denied a Quint report that suggested that sensitive personal data of drone owners was being collected by a private entity. According to the Quint report published on January 16, sensitive personal data about drone operators was “being collected not by the government but by a private entity whose identity or information has not been disclosed”. However, the Ministry told MediaNama via email that the company in question, Happiest Mind Technologies, was a system integrator and that “data is not in any private hand”.

“The registration details are being captured on digital sky platform operated by Government. M/s Happiest mind has been contracted as System Integrator who is developing the digital sky platform in different phases over a period of five years to cater to the ever growing need of drone ecosystem.

“Rest assured data is not in any private hand.” — Ministry of Civil Aviation to MediaNama

Since the Digital Sky platform is still in the process of being built, it is unclear whether the system integrator will have any visibility into the sensitive personal data about drone owners that the government collects through the platform. We have asked the Ministry for more details about the system integrator’s role in the process.

Why is this important? As per a Ministry public notice (dated January 13), all drone operators have been offered a “one-time opportunity” to compulsorily register themselves and their drones by January 31, 2020. According to the Digital Sky website, the registration process requires details such as Aadhaar card, bank statement, etc. As per the Quint report, the website is run by an IT company based in Bangalore named “Happiest Minds Technologies” instead of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Neither the webpage nor the notice by the Ministry of Civil Aviation say anything about the website being run by a private entity.

  • Furthermore, the DGCA website for drone registration asks drone operators to visit another website https://ndr.digitalskydgca.in/ to register. This website does not have a gov.in extension, as the Quint reported and MediaNama confirmed.
Screenshot of drone registration page

Screenshot of the drone registration page as per the public notice

Problem with asking for Aadhaar data: Requiring Aadhaar data might be problematic as according to the Aadhaar Amendment Bill passed in July 2019, an entity may be allowed to perform authentication through Aadhaar only if UIDAI finds the organisation to be:

  • compliant with certain standards of privacy and security;
  • permitted by law or;
  •  seeking authentication for a purpose specified by the central government in the interest of the state.

We have reached out to UIDAI to check if they allowed Happiest Minds to collect Aadhaar data for drone registration purposes.

Drone regulation in India

The deadline to register all drones in India is a part of a public notice issued by the government on January 13, 2020. It called for the voluntary disclosure of drones is an attempt to identify civil drones and operators in India, according to the government notice. It applies to “ALL unmanned aircraft” [sic] and includes models, prototypes, toys, remote-controlled aircraft, autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft systems. The entire process of registration is to take place through the online portal, Digital Sky.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation had launched Digital Sky in 2018 to facilitate online registration for drone operators. Some of the key rules of this policy are:

  • All drones (other than nano drones) are required to have a unique identification number (UIN). The fee for a fresh UIN is INR 1000.
  • No permission, no take-off (NPNT) – Before any flight, an NPNT clearance needs to be obtained.
  • All drones need to have Insurance and an ID plate, with the UIN engraved on a fire-resistant plate.
  • Drones can be operated only during the day and within line of sight.

India’s Drone Regulations 1.0 had come into effect from December 2018 onwards to provide a legal framework for operating drones. In January 2019, the government had proposed to new changes under Drone Regulations 2.0. Some major proposals for the new policy included drone ports, automatic air traffic management, drone service providers, etc.