Flying a drone in Sweden? Remove your camera first or you’re breaking the law

Oct 24, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Flying a drone in Sweden? Remove your camera first or you’re breaking the law

Oct 24, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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First reported by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, the country’s highest court ruled on Friday that it is now illegal to fly drones with attached cameras in public places as they qualify as surveillance cameras. It’s a huge blow to Sweden’s hobbyist drone community.

Hobbyists in Sweden are understandably upset, and the initial reactions are about as would be expected. Now, to fly a drone on public land would require a CCTV permit as if you were monitoring a camera mounted on a pole in a city centre. You’ll need one of these permits each time you wanted to go out. Each permit comes with a cost and no guarantee of it being granted.

There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place in Sweden. Shooting photographs or video from the ground of a person in public requires no consent. Publishing that content doesn’t require permission, either. The new categorisation of drone cameras as “surveillance” cameras puts them under the same regulations as the CCTV cameras you see on most street corners. Operating one without a permit could now carry a fine or up to a year in jail.

Some have suggested that the law may not easily be enforceable. Drones can still be flown without cameras, but when they’re up high in the air, it’s almost impossible to tell if there’s a camera attached sometimes. Of course, uploading footage to YouTube would probably be considered pretty damning evidence.

What about drones that have built in cameras that can’t be removed? What about FPV? Even if you’re not filming footage for your latest vlog, recording FPV while practising with your racing quads on public land would also be illegal.

Interestingly, dashcams and bicycle or motorcycle mounted cameras are not considered surveillance camera, due to their proximity to the user. Even though the principle is basically the same in reality. But, throw your drone up in the middle of a public field to capture a sunset? Nope, not without a permit.

This is likely to impact sales of drones in Sweden pretty severely. There’s nothing stopping you buying a Phantom 4Typhoon H or most other drones in Sweden. But, people aren’t going to buy them if they can’t fly them. This doesn’t just affect hobbyists, but also many businesses. Accident investigators, the media, and other businesses who rely on drone footage will also need these permits if they want to do their job on public land.

A lower district court in Sweden had previously ruled that drone cameras are not classed as surveillance cameras. That decision has now been overruled. No doubt there will be an appeal against this ruling, and hopefully the regulations will change. If it sticks, it sets a bad precedent that may start to pop up in other countries.

It seems the much criticised EASA regulations aren’t being implemented soon enough for some countries. Nor are they anywhere near harsh enough, apparently.

Is this the beginning of the end for drones in Europe? Or will this be appealed and beaten before it starts to spread? Are you a Swedish drone pilot who’s been affected by this ruling? Have you sold up your kit yet? Or will you keep flying and filming anyway? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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17 responses to “Flying a drone in Sweden? Remove your camera first or you’re breaking the law”

  1. Nadine Lovett Avatar
    Nadine Lovett

    Crazy those Swedish people no fun allowed ???

    1. Filip Lomstar Łomnicki Avatar
      Filip Lomstar Łomnicki

      They like fun, but they prefer GB by imigrants :D

  2. alkonaut Avatar
    alkonaut

    It’s obvious that a filming drone that hovers on a street corner 24/7 must be considered a surveillance camera. That might not be technically feasible but that shouldn’t matter for legislation.

    In my opinion the only reasonable thing to do is allow any hobbyist filming with remote cameras for short periods of time (say max N minutes per 24h period) and that would solve it for fpv and hobbyists.

    1. Ahmet Avatar
      Ahmet

      The issue is, that you can not expect a camera/person watching you above a fence, on your rooftop terace through your 15th floor bedroom window. If it is considered illegal to creep in on someone’s property to peep something not visible from the public area than why should it be legal to do so with a technical aid? If it is fine to look over a fence with a drone, why can’t I peek under the dressing rooms door with a mirror. Same principle: The door is there for a reason. Time limitation is ridiculus. Oh, I was peeking just for a minute. Well, the right minute.
      (Just in brackets. Drones are bloody annoying in nature as well. i don’t care how awesome your shot is.)
      I have to agree with the Sweedish court. Even for some extent with the American guy who shot the thing.

      1. Sean Avatar
        Sean

        So in other words blame the technology and responsible users of that technology for the actions of a small few. Gee, sounds like the same “logic” gun control nuts use.

        1. Ahmet Avatar
          Ahmet

          By your logic nothing should be controlled. Also if there is no privacy already, why bother? Do you lock your door or in your private life you also advocate trusting the vast majority and fix errors afterwards?

      2. alkonaut Avatar
        alkonaut

        I completely agree: filming people or private property shouldn’t be more or less allowed just because the camera is on a drone. The limitation I was talking about would only apply where you would be filming in public space (the street corner scenario). I wouldn’t want someone to be banned from filming a waterfall with a drone but I would like it to be illegal to monitor a public park from the air for a year 24/7 with a balloon camera (for example). A limitation that you can’t film *people* can also be used — That helps the waterfall photographer but also means you can’t run an fpv race in a park. I’d be fine with that too.

        The protection of people inside the door I believe is already handled even for handheld photography in most countries.

        1. Ahmet Avatar
          Ahmet

          So surveillance is only something that records 24/7? Motion triggered cameras then not.

          1. alkonaut Avatar
            alkonaut

            I’d consider a motion detector + camera equivalent to 24/7 filming.

            What I meant was

            A: long term surveillance = bad (already the case – e.g can’t mount CCTV on street – no new law required)

            B: Any drone filming of individuals in private space = bad (already the case even for handheld camera – no new law required)

            C: Short term drone filming of public space and individuals in public space = ok (it’s ok for handheld camera so I don’t think this should be co fused with “A” just because the camera flies – privacy is still protected by “B”)

            Does that make sense?

          2. Ahmet Avatar
            Ahmet

            Sure it does. But I think it conflicts the reality and behaviour of people. Eg. I just fly this dron for 5 min. right after this famous person went behind this wall. Whoops, accidentally I filmed him/her meeting someone, lets post it on Youtube. When you are no interest to the public you have nothing to fear, that is why nobody cares. Once you are (you don’t have to be a rockstar, it is enough to be a victim of scandal/crime/etc.) then nobody gives a flying f**k about your privacy and will ruin your life for 15 minutes of fame with some “accidentally caught on camera” BS.
            It is not about your privacy 24/7, it is about your privacy when you are wurnerable.

          3. alkonaut Avatar
            alkonaut

            So you mean drones blur the lines between public and private space? Because for handheld cameras it’s pretty simple : you can shoot people in the street but not sneak a shot of someone in a private space e.g. in through a window (varies between countries of course but to take Sweden as an example).

            > I filmed him/her meeting someone, lets post it on Youtube

            if that meeting takes place in a public place, you have every right to film the meeting (regardless of camera type) and if it was a sensitive meeting the shouldn’t have met in public. If the meeting was in a private space then filming it was illegal regardless of camera type.

            Drones makes it easier to break the law (because you can reach more private spaces) – is that the issue? Sometimes we ban things (like cars going 400mph) because they make it too easy to break the law. The question just comes down to whether the utility outweighs the drawbacks.

          4. Ahmet Avatar
            Ahmet

            Something like that. On the other hand, I’m really not happy that a few pounds with 4-6 rotating blades buzzing overhead controlled by some boy.

  • Julio Hnntl Avatar
    Julio Hnntl

    For real ?? Tobi !

    1. Tobi Kleiser Avatar
      Tobi Kleiser

      Uiuiui ?

  • MechaMaster20 Avatar
    MechaMaster20

    Why have cameras on drones become a problem? People have been putting cameras on RC Helicopters and Planes before drones were around. Is it because they are more maneuverable?

  • Kim Jacobsson Avatar
    Kim Jacobsson

    I think most people are missing the point here. Every time you go to an ATM you are being filmed, when you drive down the highway you are also filmed. A walk in the city center means that you are being watched. So what’s the big deal with a drone or FPV? They should like other countries concentrate on the safety aspect rather than this rubbish. The surveillance act in Sweden was passed in 1977 at a time when there was little camera monitoring done at all. Time to change the law!! My FPV racing drone can record video of my flights but not in HD but much poorer quality. It is for my experience not anyone else. If I saw a drone over head with a camera I would probably wave to it :) I have nothing to hide. Dash cams, bike cams, mobile phone recording is all ok according to the law but heaven forbid that a person should want to get the best possible experience from his hobby! Concentrate on the safety issues Sweden and not this rubbish!!

  • gavlar Avatar
    gavlar

    I just purchased a DJI Phantom 4 pro based on the expected reversal of the law in August.
    Interestingly, I was told by the store where I bought it that it is legal to fly a camera drone in Sweden so long as you can prove that you are not filming or taking photo’s; And that not having an sd card in the drone would be adequate evidence. Can anyone confirm this?