Information Commissioner urges media to be open and honest about the use of drones

The Information Commissioner has warned the media to be 'open and honest' with the public when they are using drones.

Several UK media organisations, including Sky, the BBC and the Daily Telegraph use drones to shoot video in locations that are impossible to reach on foot. The Telegraph used them effectively to cover the UK floods earlier this year.

But the ICO has reminded the media to use drones responsibly in its newly-updated CCTV code of practice

A spokesperson said: "The use of drones may arouse public concern. Our advice to journalists is to be open and honest wherever possible. People should know if you are collecting information about them, where it is practical and wouldn’t undermine the journalistic activity."

Some media organisations use signs to to tell the public when they are filming. But they don't have to if publication is in the public interest and compliance would be incompatible with journalism, as they are protected by the journalistic exemption under section 32 of the Data Protection Act

The ICO spokesperson explained: "You do not need to notify individuals if this would undermine the journalistic activity, but this will be a trigger to consider the section 32 exemption."

The media can use drones to put people under surveillance, provided they are necessary, and the story is in the public interest under the Editors' Code

However, if someone also complained about covert filming under the Data Protection Act, the ICO would weigh up the:

  • importance of the story
  • level of intrusion, and
  • potential impact upon the individual and third parties.

The ICO's Data protection and journalism’ guidance provides more detailed advice on the use of undercover or intrusive covert methods to get a story.

Cleland Thom is author of Internet law for journalists

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