Use of drones

The use of drones containing video cameras for monitoring areas or properties in a city.


Examples of application areas include:

  • Aerial surveillance and monitoring
  • Traffic monitoring
  • Examples of armed drones and the usage of such drones in surveillance, policing, commercial and private purposes are presented and discussed in (COMEST, 2017).


  • Enabling aerial surveillance of public spaces and private properties 
  • Facilitating the monitoring of remote zones of difficult access through land vehicles 
  • Reducing traffic of land vehicles by using drones for distributing purchased products

Threats related to misuse and abuse

Violation of privacy – Two alternatives are drones used for aerial surveillance of: a) public spaces, like streets, parks and other places in a city, and b) a private property. In the former case, the use of the drone is under the responsibility of a government entity. In this scenario, the drone can be used to track a person moving on the street, and during this process, it can identify a person who may be deemed suspicious. Some questions to be answered include: Can the drone track the movement of individuals, or it can just be used for a general panning of an area? What actions can the drone take if it determines that there is a person exhibiting a suspicious attitude? How can the drone decide whether it is monitoring a situation that can be considered risky or dangerous? If the drone is used to monitor a private property, the cost of the service is borne by the residents of the property: a main question is how can the images captured by the drone be limited to the targeted property and not to properties located nearby? 

Collecting personal data – Drones can collect personal data of individuals, like car plates, home addresses. They can also identify persons driving a car, entering or living a building. Is it legal to collect such data?

Misuse of collected data – A clear concern is the usage of the collected information. Who is using all the collected data – i.e. is government using the data for public purposes, and for which purposes in particular? Is the data collected used by a private company? Was the data collected commercialized?  Does a normal citizen have the right to use information collected by a drone? For instance, if a drone collected data about an accident in the street. Can a citizen obtain the data and use it in a trial? Can the collected information be used as evidence in trials? By whom?

Bias on monitored areas – Clear and open rules are needed for deciding which areas of the city should be monitored. Questions to be answered include: Which areas and neighborhoods of the city should be monitored? Are different neighborhoods, e.g. one where very poor people live and another where very rich people live, treated in the same way? Are residents of the neighborhoods aware that a drone is monitoring the area where they live?

Ethical challenges

The following table summarizes ethical challenges associated with the use of drones.

C1 Violation of privacy due to recording a person´s movements without the individual´s consent Principle R
C2 Violation of privacy due to recording images of a private property without resident´s consent Principle R
C3 Violation of privacy by collecting and maintaining personal data without individual´s consent Principle R
C4 Misuse of the collected data and risks associated with the usage of such data for commercial purposes or purposes different from those for  which they were collected Principle R
C5 Bias on monitored areas and making decisions to monitor in more or less detail a given area due to hidden interests  Principle R

* See Principles to found out more about principles.