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Drone Rules “adequately” cover privacy concerns, claims Indian Govt: Is this true?

Despite this claim, lawyers have said that the Rules allow the government access to data on the Digital Sky platform, among other concerns

Courtesy: DFI

What’s the news: On December 22, 2022 the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA) said that the Drone Rules 2021 has provisions that adequately cover privacy concerns, while replying to questions in the Parliament. The MCA’s response comes as quite a surprise, especially because MediaNama previously spoke with experts who talked at length about the Rules’ lack of attention towards privacy.

MCA claims Rule 49(4) addresses privacy breaches: MP Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Singari asked the Ministry whether the government proposes to deal with the question of privacy with regards to UAV and drone usage for research, development and testing purposes and traffic management. He also asked “whether the Drone Amendment Rules, 2022 are insufficient to tackle the issue of privacy?”

As regards the dealing with the privacy issues, Dr V. K. Singh, Minister of State, said that Rule 49(4) of the Drone Rules provides that “the provisions of these rules shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, the provisions of any other law, for the time being in force.” He said that this adequately covers all offences including breach of privacy that is covered under relevant laws like the Information Technology Act, 2000 that talked about punishment for violation of privacy.

Further, he said that drones and UAVs require the permission of the Air Traffic Control and the central government for operating such equipment in yellow and red zones, after checking multiple parameters like registration of drone and pilot, drone model, flight plan, purpose, etc.


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Why it matters: Prior to the Drone Rules, the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Rules 2021, had a specific obligation on authorised UAS operators to ensure the privacy of a person. Recently, drone usage and awareness about digital and privacy rights in India has increased. In November, the government even released the revised Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022. Even this Bill fails to make any explicit mention of drones while allowing processing of personal data by government for various situations. Considering that various smart city projects – remember the infamous Lucknow Smart City Project – intend to encourage drone usage, it is important that such rules include the appropriate provisions to safeguard the right to privacy.

Centre should bring back UAS-like provisions: Earlier, Namita Vishwanath, partner at IndusLaw, pointed out that the Draft Rules do not address the privacy concerns of persons during the operation of drones. As mentioned before, the UAS Rules 2021 compelled UAS operators to ensure the privacy of a person and its property during operations, including for imagery or data capturing. Similarly, Vasanth Rajasekaran, partner at Phoenix Legal said that other jurisdictions like the EU have dealt with this issue by requiring impact assessment in line with the General Data Protection Regulation.

Instead, Kritika Seth, founding partner at Victoriam Legalis, said that the Drone Rules allowed state governments, union territory administrations, and law enforcement agencies to access data available on the Digital Sky platform. Seth questioned how such data would be protected in case any privacy-related issues come up in future. These concerns about non-personal data are yet to be addressed by the government.

Awareness about UAV certification, etc: Singari also asked whether the government has organized any awareness drive for the mechanism of obtaining certification, registration, remote pilot licenses and insurance for a UAS. The MCA replied that it has organised Drone melas in various states to highlight the uses cases and the policy reforms.

“A Bharat Drone Mahotsav 2022 was organised at Pragati Maidan during 27th-29th May 2022 in the august presence of the Prime Minister as the Chief Guest. The event attracted over 70 drone exhibitors and 10,000 visitors,” said the MCA.


This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.

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I'm interested in the shaping and strengthening of rights in the digital space. I cover cybersecurity, platform regulation, gig worker economy. In my free time, I'm either binge-watching an anime or off on a hike.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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