Data Privacy & Security

Sweden Changes Law to make Drones Legal Again

1. Introduction

As reported before, in the autumn of 2016, the Swedish Supreme Administrative Court ruled that a camera mounted on a drone is considered a CCTV camera for purposes of the Swedish Camera Monitoring Act. The judgment meant that using a drone equipped with a camera, where the camera will be directed at a place to which the public has access, requires a licence from the County Administrative Board. Since a licence in principle is granted only for the prevention of crime, normal commercial and recreational use of a drone equipped with a camera became immediately (for practical purposes) prohibited in Sweden. The Swedish government has now proposed legislation to exempt the private use of drone cameras from the permit requirements, making drone use in Sweden legal again. The new legislation is expected to enter into effect on 1 August 2017.

2. Drone regulation in Sweden

The Swedish Transport Agency estimates that in Sweden there are between 50,000 and 100,000 drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for recreational use. In addition, the Transport Agency has issued a little over 1,500 permits for drones for commercial use. As in many other countries, drones are finding an increasing number of commercial applications. Apart from news and other media applications, drones are e.g., used for surveying, inspection, aerial photography by real property brokers and the like.

In Sweden, civil unmanned aircraft are regulated by aviation regulations, specifically the Swedish Transport Agency's Regulation (TSFS 2009:88) on unmanned aircraft– UAS (as amended by TSFS 2013:27 and TSFS 2014:45).  Drones with an operational mass exceeding 150 kg and which will likely be subject to serial manufacturing are regulated by Regulation (EC) no 216/2008. Permission for these is applied for at the European aviation authority EASA. Moreover, Regulation (EU) 923/2012 and the Swedish Transport Agency's Regulation (TSFS 2014:71) and general guidelines for aviation (as amended by TSFS 2014:94), along with the Swedish Aviation Act (2010:500) and Aviation Ordinance (2010:770) generally regulating aviation in Sweden, also apply to drones. There are also additional restrictions on the distribution of aerial photographs.

Aside from these general regulations, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled, in its judgment in October 2016, that camera-equipped drones are also comprised by the Swedish Camera Monitoring Act (2013:460). Under this Act, directing CCTV cameras towards an area which the public has access to, requires a licence from the County Administrative Board. In the assessment of whether a licence will be granted, the County Administrative Board will weigh that the interest for monitoring is weighed against the interest for integrity. In principle, a licence will be granted only to prevent crime, meaning that no licences would be granted for commercial or recreational purposes.

3. The legal change

In the aftermath of the judgment, serious concerns were raised in Swedish society and the business community that the judgment would stifle the rapidly growing drone industry and prevent legitimate and beneficial uses of drone technology, e.g., within rescue work, forestry and agriculture as well as journalism. For this reason, the Swedish Ministry of Justice moved swiftly to draw up a legislative proposal in the form of a memorandum entitled The Camera Monitoring Act and the possibilities to use drones for legitimate purposes. In brief, the key proposal of the memorandum is to exempt the application of the Camera Monitoring Act to surveillance conducted by a camera mounted on a drone, provided that the surveillance is not undertaken by a government agency. The memorandum was referred for consideration to a number of relevant bodies in Sweden, including central government agencies, special interest groups, local government authorities and other bodies whose activities may be affected by the proposals. Although some concerns were raised on the basis of privacy, a vast majority of the referral bodies were in favor of the proposal.

As a result, the government will now propose to Parliament a brief amendment of the Camera Monitoring Act, as follows: “The Act shall not apply to camera surveillance from an unmanned aircraft, provided that the surveillance is conducted by a party other than a government agency.”  Once the amendment will be actually enacted – private business and recreational use of drones will be lawful again.

The legislative change is expected to pass in Parliament and to enter into effect on 1 August 2017, at which point not only commercial users but also a great number of hobbyists again may dust off their drones and take off into the summer sky.