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Privacy Implications of the Spread of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) In Canada

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Queen’s University, Surveillance Studies Centre



Project Leader(s)

David Lyon, Professor, Queen's Research Chair in Surveillance Studies


Drones, officially called “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs), are used in Canada primarily for a range of surveillance activities.  This project sets out to understand where drones came from, what they are used for and, in particular, what new challenges they raise for privacy, civil liberties and human rights. The research focuses on the commercial sphere, although, the distinction between the public and private sectors on this issue is becoming increasingly blurred.

The research found that the number of surveillance drones being flown in Canada is increasing rapidly year by year and provides statistics gathered through Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests that demonstrate drones are being used for many purposes, some of which are unclear. The research also shows that drones are keenly marketed by a growing group of manufacturers and their use is overseen by Transport Canada and Industry Canada. The report includes interviews with a number of key players in the UAV industry. The researchers commissioned a public opinion survey that offers a snapshot of Canadian views and hints strongly about where non-experts think the most sensitive issues lie.

The report offers facts and insights on each of these areas—the information requests, expert interviews and public opinion survey—leading up to a section that situates drones in relation to privacy. It suggests that drone use is leading us into unknown territory, in terms of both new elements of surveillance and new challenges for privacy. For example, a surveillance UAV can be operated at altitudes that make it impossible for the individuals they are capturing on camera to see or hear the drone. This is quite different from, for example, fixed and visible cameras in the street for which the official guidelines recommend warning signage.

In conclusion, the research report offers several clear and practical recommendations that need immediate attention if drone development in Canada is to proceed in a way that respects basic privacy rights.

This document is available in the following language(s):

English only

OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

Contact Information

Tel: (613) 533-6000 ext. 78867
Fax: (613) 533-6499

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