Drone law raises privacy concerns

Since April last year, there have been two cases of unmanned aircraft fallng onto MRT tracks.

This is out of more than 20 reported incidents involving such aircraft.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew revealed these figures in Parliament yesterday during the debate on the Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Bill.

The Bill, which was passed and will kick in on June 1, aims to improve the responsible operation of unmanned aircraft while ensuring safety and security concerns are met.

In both incidents, a member of the public had flown the drone in an open field and lost control of it, Mr Lui said.

"Fortunately, no train service was disrupted, no damage was caused to the MRT tracks and no one was injured," he said.

In one of the incidents, a member of the public was issued a stern warning for an offence under the Penal Code. The police is investigating the other incident, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) reported.

Under the Bill, an operator must apply for a permit to fly a drone that weighs more than 7kg or is within 5km of an aerodrome, or when it is used for commercial purposes.

A list of security-sensitive areas where such aircraft are not allowed to fly without a permit, like the Istana, will also be published.

Drones must not carry dangerous materials, such as weapons, bio-chemical or radioactive material.

Members of Parliament who joined the debate supported the Bill, but raised privacy and enforcement concerns.

Pasir Ris-Punggol MP Gan Thiam Poh and Nominated MP Benedict Tan were worried that the privacy of those living in Housing Board would be compromised.

"With Singapore's dense housing, how do we ensure that unmanned aircraft with cameras do not peep into bedroom and bathroom windows?" Dr Tan asked.

Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng and Mr Gan asked about the ability of enforcers to end the flight path of a rogue drone should it be found, for instance, to be carrying prohibited items, said The Straits Times.

Under the new sections of the Public Order Act, as part of the Bill's proposed amendments, those authorised can control or end a drone's flight path when it comes to security and safety breaches.


According to CNA, Mr Gan asked if the authorities would be empowered to shoot the drones down if the operators refuse to land them, or if they are beyond control and likely to cause harm and injury on the ground.

"What worries me about this Bill is the lack of measures to enable the authorities to carry out preventive checks to minimise chances of unmanned aircraft carrying prohibited items, especially explosives, from taking off.

"And in the event rogue unmanned aircraft are recovered, there may be very little evidence on them to assist with the identification of owners and operators," he said.

Mr Lui said privacy-related incidents will be investigated on a case-by-case basis. Errant users can be taken to task if their actions constitute an offence under existing laws like the Penal Code and Protection from Harassment Act.

This article was first published on May 12, 2015.
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