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Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs
Roundtable on drones and privacy
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Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs
CHAIR (Mr Christensen)
Markus, Louise, MP
Stone, Dr Sharman, MP
Claydon, Sharon, MP
Porter, Christian, MP
Dreyfus, Mark, MP
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Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs
(House of Reps-Friday, 28 February 2014)
CHAIR (Mr Christensen)
Dr Mejias Alvares
Mr Mejias Alvarez
- Dr STONE
Content WindowStanding Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs - 28/02/2014 - Roundtable on drones and privacy
ALLMAN, Ms Cheryl, Acting Executive Manager, Airspace and Aerodrome Regulation Division, Civil Aviation Safety Authority
FARQUHARSON, Mr Terry, Deputy Director of Aviation Safety, Civil Aviation Safety Authority
HOY, Mr Anthony Francis, Director, VidiAir Pty Ltd.
LAKE, Mr Sean, Acting Manager, National Operations Centre, Airservices Australia
MASON, Mr Brad, Secretary, Australian Certified UAV Operators Association
MAZOWITA, Mr Grant, Manager, Standards Development and Quality Assurance, Civil Aviation Safety Authority
McCORMICK, Mr John, Director of Aviation Safety, Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Committee met at 09:17
CHAIR ( Mr Christensen ): I declare open this roundtable of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and pay our respects to elders past, present and future. The committee also acknowledges the present Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who now reside in this area and thanks them for continuing their stewardship of this land. We will start with a prayer. Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouch safe Thy blessing upon this committee of the parliament. Direct and prosper our deliberations to the advancement of Thy glory, and the true welfare of the people of Australia.
I want you all to note that these meetings are formal proceedings of the parliament. Everything said should be factual and honest, and it can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee. This roundtable is open to the public and is being broadcast live, and a transcript of what has been said will be on the committee's website.
I welcome all the witnesses here today. Our first session is going to focus on the regulation of drones and drone technology in Australia. To give our discussion some context, and to provide us with a starting point, I ask Mr John McCormick of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to make some brief opening remarks.
Mr McCormick : Thank you, Chair. I think it is a very good idea to have this on at this stage. I think the executive and the administration are often accused of being a little bit behind these things, but I think that at this stage we still have time to address these important issues. From CASA's point of view, our role is in the regulation of the operations, but we do not at this stage have any head of power or any involvement in privacy issues. Mr Farquharson has previously given an introduction on where we are with our UAV regulation development. So, with your indulgence, I ask him to give you a short update of where we are to put everyone on the same page.
Mr Farquharson : When we met earlier I provided the committee with a short introductory brief. I believe you have copies of it. It is important to understand that we are talking about an unmanned aircraft that falls under the genre of unmanned aircraft systems and that, within that, these are remotely piloted aeroplanes. We regulate under part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations, which were first written in 2002 and are currently under consideration for amendment. That will be accompanied with a series of advisory circulars giving the industry guidance as to how they can comply with the regulations and policies.
Airspace provides us with an ongoing challenge, and we are certainly not in any different in Australia from other regulators around the world. The US, for example, has hived off particular areas of airspace in which these operations take place. We issue particular approvals as we can to facilitate these operations, but the operations in controlled airspace still remain a challenge for every regulator around the world.
The industry is booming. Since we last met we have issued more approvals and we have 79 in play at present with another 20 seeking assessment. We expect that this will grow very quickly over the coming year. The majority of these are in the small UAS category, but we have recently seen announcements that governments are looking at larger systems than the types we have seen. I have given you some information about that in the attachments.
The ICAO developments are such that they are considering how these devices will operate under the convention, but we need to be aware that the ICAO remit is for international operations, so the sense at present is that they will be looking at systems that are 20 to 25 kilos and above, as they will have international range. They have done a considerable amount of work to date, but ICAO does not move quickly. We will have to deal at a local level with the smaller RPAs, and that will occupy us quite considerably over the next period ahead. As I said, all regulators around the world are dealing with similar problems. It is the explosion of small technology—microtechnology—that has allowed small devices to proliferate. They are easily acquired over the internet. In fact, you can go down to your local store and for something in the order of $650 buy a quad machine, and if you want to go into your iPad store you can buy something for a bit less. These are model aeroplanes but they do have the potential to cause harm, and that is something that we are grappling with.
CHAIR: When you say harm, what you mean specifically?
Mr Farquharson : Operate it inappropriately, not maintaining the right separation from people or flying over built-up areas. We have model aircraft rules that specify minimum heights, separation from people and separation from populous areas.
Mrs MARKUS: Could you describe those rules?
Mr Farquharson : Not above 400 feet AGL; not within 30 metres of people who are not directly involved in the activity; not within three kilometres of an aerodrome; and—
Mr Mazowita : Day visual line of sight.
CHAIR: There is no distinguishment, obviously with those rules, between pertaining to drones and pertaining to just any model aircraft?
Mr Farquharson : Those rules read over into day visual line of sight operations with the smaller commercial operations.
Dr STONE: Are your concerns around safety—perhaps interfering with some other aircraft or banging into people, or whatever—or what about privacy issues? Do you have any concerns at this stage? Is that in your remit at all to look at the privacy issues?
Mr Farquharson : We have absolutely no remit for privacy; it is safety and safety alone.
CHAIR: So safety of other aircraft or safety of civilians?
Mr Farquharson : Other aircraft; other property; other people.
Mr McCormick : Manned aircraft are built to a standard worldwide. The normal acceptable standard for large aircraft is under what is called the code of the FARs, the Federal Aviation Regulations, part 25, and the equivalent parts in the European EASA system. And that specifies the ability and the tolerances required for the aircraft to maintain heading by itself, or stability, in other words; its ability to maintain altitude; what component failure rates they have, in other words, in most of the 737-type aircraft the components are certified that they will have one failure in a million, 10 to the minus six. The difficulty with the proliferation of these UASs—and I will talk about the big ones in a second—is that they are not built to any standard. There is no international standard at this stage. So their ability to maintain altitude, their ability to maintain heading, their ability to suffer equipment failure and then not crash, have not been established. With the larger ones, which we have often seen in Afghanistan and in other places, and the global Hawk, the very large one which I think is one of the vehicles Australia is considering, they are of course built to a military specification. But there is no immediate write-over of that military specification to the civilian specification.
For some of the larger vehicles in the US, the US Federal Aviation Administration, the CASA equivalent, has issued a type of certificate for them, but it is not that its feet are made of clay; it is just that there is no international standard at the moment. Integration into controlled airspace becomes a problem both for our services and for us from the point of view of knowing just how that vehicle will react and how it will behave. So there is a risk of interference with other vehicles, interference with other aircraft, and the possibility of crashing in public areas, with the obvious response. The smaller you go, if you get down to very low weights like under two kilograms, we are really talking kinetic energy now. A two-kilogram vehicle is most probably—and we have not settled on this yet—seen worldwide as being not particularly harmful. Nothing will ever have no harm, but it most probably is as low as reasonably acceptable, or at least reasonably possible. Once you get above that, of course, the kinetic energy effects come into play. So there is much work to be done on that sort of operation around what standards the vehicle is built to. And, as you saw yourself, and as Mr Farquharson has just said, it is quite easy to order one of these things from the number one quadcopter factory—shall we say—somewhere to the north of us.
Of course, we have no ability either to interfere in what is rightly Customs and Border Protection's territory as well as in the regulation of the import of these things. So I think it is a multifaceted issue. There will be us, as far as the regulations go, so that we allow commercial operations and, of course, police force operations and that sort of thing. Then there is the vehicle itself and the regulations around that; the air services issues of integrating them into the controlled airspace; there will be the factors that you are looking at here as well; and then it will be what Australia's position is when it comes to how people import these things, and whether there should be any other restrictions on that. Of course, I pass no comment on that.
CHAIR: I am picking up, though, that there is perhaps some concern about the growing usage of them. But really, I suppose, the question I have is, 'How different is it to model airplanes or model helicopters?' which have been in wide circulation for ages—for years, since I was a kid or longer.
Mr McCormick : With model aircraft, most people can build one almost from scratch. These are very sophisticated pieces of equipment. I dare say that what you saw today is a very sophisticated device, even though it may look relatively simple. A few years ago the technology to build that would not have been available at the affordability level where someone could purchase it. It was restricted mainly to the military world or government high-end.
There is no doubt whatsoever that if a large UAV crashes, it will not be without harm. That is one of the issues which we always have in the back of our minds. From CASA's point of view, it is anything that ACUO comes out with in their annex—and I think it is annex 11, Grant, from memory—that deals with UAVs. Even though we are a signatory of the Chicago convention from 1944, as you are well aware there is not automatic incorporation in Australia of treaty-level documents. It is incorporated as far as we are concerned via the Civil Aviation Act, and the Civil Aviation Act says at section 3A that our prime purpose is that maximum emphasis has to be on aviation safety—protecting the public.
CHAIR: Okay. Are there any further comments from CASA regarding—
Mr McCormick : Having said that we have nothing to do with privacy, if I could just leave one thought at this stage? We have a lot of operators who come to us and wish to do things with a UAS, and in fact we have allowed a particular company to use one of these vehicles beyond visual line of sight to monitor a bushfire recently up in the Singleton area of New South Wales. But quite often we have people come to use who wish to do the same sorts of things that they envisage police forces or fire brigades will do.
Our current theory and thinking is that it is all around risk, and anything that we do has to be based on consequence likelihood. When we view it in that way, the average person or commercial operator has a certain understanding of risk. I am not saying they do not understand risk, but they understand it in whatever context they have come from, whereas I do not have to explain risk to a police force or a fire brigade. Every time the police kick down somebody's door, or firemen run into a building, they understand risk. So there is less likelihood, from our point of view, that they will not understand the concepts that we are talking about when it comes to risk. Risk is a very nefarious thing; if nothing happens, there was no risk—well, that is not necessarily so. However, there tends to be that mindset.
So we are taking a graduated approach to it. What we will do with law enforcement agencies et cetera I dare say would be slightly more than we are prepared to do at this stage with a commercial operator until the commercial operator establishes its bonafides.
Mr McCormick : Lastly, Chair, I see we are not on here for the rest of the day, but if you require us we are only about 10 minutes down the road. We are quite happy to come back.
CHAIR: Great—I think there will be a few questions from the committee members.
Ms CLAYDON: I just want to follow up on what you mentioned earlier. You said that you had the 79 approvals at the moment and another 29, I think, waiting. Of those approvals, can you break down whether they are primarily commercial operations or—
Mr McCormick : They are all commercial
Ms CLAYDON: Okay. Thanks.
Mr PORTER: Given that weight and size are obviously the major indicators for potential danger for this equipment, just in your recent experience what is the most dangerous piece of equipment that you have come across—in terms of kinetic energy, weight and size?
Mr McCormick : Outside of the military operations in Woomera, I do not think we have seen any large UAVs. I think the industry may be better able to tell you this. I do not think we have seen anything above a couple of kilos.
Mr DREYFUS: I would be interested to follow up on Christian's question. What is the largest UAV in operation commercially in Australia? Perhaps that is a matter for you.
Mr Mason : The largest one in our association would be 15 kilos, I believe.
Mr DREYFUS: ScanEagle is probably the largest of the Boeings that you operate here.
Mr Mason : It has been used for non-military use in Australia.
Mr DREYFUS: That is a 15 kilogram device. What is its wingspan? Is it right to talk of wingspan?
Mr Farquharson : Yes.
CHAIR: We have 3.11 metres.
Mr McCormick : Again, with those operations of the scanning ball, up until now they have some mammal survival. They are involved with the rescue operation which may come into being for the surf lifesaver associations in Australia and in Queensland. They also were the operators that we permitted to operate beyond visual line of sight outside of Singleton, in what was segregated airspace. In other words, we permitted no other aircraft in that airspace.
Mr DREYFUS: What were they doing?
Mr McCormick : I think they were demonstrating to the Rural Fire Service their ability to use a sensor system to track fire fronts. That is a worthwhile task, I might add, so it is up to us to facilitate that as best we can.
CHAIR: On that topic, we might jump over to you, Mr Mason, to give an outline of what members of your organisation are doing in this space and how widespread the usage of the larger drone technology is.
Mr Mason : Thank you. The association has 23 members at the moment who are what we call OC, operator certificate, holders. They are all commercial operators. I think the largest machine that we have in our membership would weigh about 15 kilograms. Most of them come in at under 7 kilograms. The uses are quite broad. They are for everything from standard real estate aerial photography and video through to mining surveys and stockpile surveys and there are agricultural applications for multispectral imagery, crop health, moisture content and all those sorts of thing. They are for all sorts of things—pipelines, power line inspections. Our members cover quite a broad range of activities.
From our perspective, what we are seeing is that there is a lot of illegal and unauthorised use of UAVs. We understand that the regulator is doing its best to try and combat that but, unfortunately, as the director mentioned before, they are so easily available and so cheap to buy these days that anybody can buy one and anyone can go out and operate one. It is really difficult to regulate, manage and catch those people. A lot of those people are coming from a non-aviation background, too, so they do not have an aviation knowledge set. They are coming from a commercial business background, so they are not really aware of some of the things they are doing and some of the safety implications of what they are doing. What we would like to work closer with the regulator in how we can combat that, because the greatest threat, from both a safety and a privacy issue, is more so from the illegal and unauthorised operators than the certified operators. We are heavily regulated and we are quite heavily limited in what we can do and where we can go. It is not like we can just put an aircraft up in the air anywhere at any time. We have to go through very strict procedures, quite strict safety and risk management assessments, before we put an aircraft in the air.
CHAIR: Do you have set protocols for that?
Mr Mason : We do.
CHAIR: Do any of your members, the operators who are using these devices, use them for the collection of personal data at all? Are they specifically used for mapping and infrastructure analysis and stuff like that?
Mr Mason : The privacy issue is really to do with the data that comes from the machine. The machine itself is not the problem, it is the data that is collected. Most of the data that our members collect is collected for a client. Quite often the client will stipulate that that data must be protected and secured, that it is not freely available to anybody else. Quite often we are contractually obligated to secure that information. In other areas—public areas, or areas where the public may be at risk—then we do a full job safety assessment. With that comes a privacy assessment as well.
For instance, if we are doing a suburban photographic shoot then the potential for the next-door neighbours to be affected is very real. Quite often, it is more a perception rather than an any actual privacy risk. But we take that into consideration, and we do our best to inform most people and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns before we do anything.
CHAIR: What I am specifically asking is: is there anyone operating these devices within your organisation who is utilising it specifically for the collection of personal data, like flying a drone over to check how many sheds there are in a suburb?
Mr Mason : No.
CHAIR: Nothing like that at all?
Mr Mason : No.
CHAIR: When you talk about the unauthorised devices that are out there, are they the larger devices or are they more the ones that are easily accessible over the internet?
Mr Mason : They are more the smaller, easily accessible ones, yes. The latest incident was on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where we had someone fly one through the bridge and it landed on the railway tracks. It created a bit of a stir there for a while. But what we did not see was any follow-up from that.
Mr Farquharson : John, was there any procedure that was enacted on that one?
Mr Mason : Yes, that is in train.
Mr Farquharson : Okay, good.
Mr McCormick : From CASA's point of view, if we now try to do something to say that you cannot operate a lightweight UAV unless you tell us—leaving aside the grey area of the model aircraft—when it becomes something that is commercially viable I would be in a situation of writing of regulation that I know I cannot enforce. That is bad law. We are hamstrung here in many ways.
CHAIR: I understand. Okay.
Mr Mason : We try to work with the regulator to find solutions to that, but we accept that it is a difficult process for the regulator to deal with. There are lots of them out there.
CHAIR: I refer to the UAVs for commercial use, rather than civilian users who are just doing it for fun and where it may get out of control and land on a railway track, Anecdotally, what have you heard some of these unauthorised users are using it for in their commercial purposes? What commercial purposes?
Mr Mason : We see a lot of UAVs used for things like real estate photography. It is big, even to the extent where we had a real estate agent in Brisbane recently who was advertising free aerial photography with one of these small quadcopters. He was completely unaware of the regulations. He put a full-page advertisement in the Brisbane papers saying, 'We will fly and capture your real estate property for nothing.' That is a big issue for commercial operators, but also for the regulator. A lot of these people, as I say, are just not aware of the safety and privacy issues. From our perspective, they are the greatest risk to aviation and public safety and privacy.
Mr Porter : I just want to touch on the issue of inadvertence, because it seems to me that this is one of the problems with responsible use of this technology. If you are viewing an industrial asset using a commercially-viable drone for real estate, or whatever it might be, you are recording metadata to assess the structure and quality of the asset. In most jurisdictions there is a formulation of words in the relevant listening devices act that stipulates what is lawful from what is unlawful, and this is a very core summary of that. That form of words usually goes something like: 'it is unlawful to record a person in any circumstances where they would reasonably consider that their activities could not be viewed by the general public'.
Mr Mason : Absolutely.
Mr Porter : It seems that the inadvertence issue is that, when you are collecting the metadata on an industrial or real estate asset, you may well be taking pictures of a farmer walking on his back porch, or whatever that might be, that potentially breaches that general rule that exists in most jurisdictions. So my question is this: do you go back over your data and expunge or adapt the data that may breach that principle?
Mr Mason : We assess the situation first to see where the perceived privacy issues are. When we turn up to a property or a client's premises, we are looking for those issues and we will note them down. If necessary, we will go and knock on the doors and talk to those people and say: 'We are about to do this. Do you have an issue? Are there any concerns?' But, on top of that, the technology itself is developing quite rapidly and there are already some technologies in place—things like automasking, for instance—that allow us to section out parts of a property or areas that we are imaging or photographing and say: 'That area is out of bounds. We do not take any pictures in that area'. There is also what we call 'geofencing', an internal software within the autopilot system that stops the UAB going outside the boundaries that we set. That in itself sets up certain boundaries that we will not breach.
Mr Porter : Is there, above all of those safeguards—
Mr Mason : There is potential.
Mr Porter : Yes, and in response to that potential is there a general routine process of assessing the data to adapt or remove information that you consider might [inaudible]
Mr Mason : At the moment it is very individual. As an association, we are currently trying to put together a proper code of conduct that will capture all of that, but that is still a work in progress at this stage.
Mr Porter : A point I would put to you and seek your observations is that one difficulty with that formulation of words that I have previously given a summary of is that it is not quite keeping up with the technology, because there can be quite reasonable inadvertence. But it seems that the offence might be committed at the very point of recording. It may be that one of the legislative responses over the broader sweep is to give some kind of reasonable time period for people to remove or expunge the data after considering it.
CHAIR: Is it possible for information purposes of the committee to get a copy of your privacy guidelines and your policy?
Mr Mason : Certainly.
CHAIR: That would be very helpful.
Dr STONE: That was exactly the question I was going to ask. Those privacy guidelines would be good. Besides that, are you taking any other country's regulations, codes of conduct or privacy codes as best practice? Are you being influenced?
Mr Mason : We are.
Dr STONE: Who do you see currently as having best practice?
Mr Mason : At the moment we are looking at UVS International in Europe. They have recently invited our association onto the international ARPAS coordination council, and in that forum we will be working on best practice that has been developed both there and here.
Dr STONE: At the moment, what do you see as the biggest difference with what we are doing? You have mentioned that you feel we are very heavily regulated. They were your words in relation to the commercial users. How are the Europeans doing things differently?
Mr Mason : I do not believe they are doing things a great deal differently. My understanding is that places like the UK and France and Belgium have a very similar system of registering and assessing operators. They go through a formal training process and an assessment process, the same as here. I believe they are very similar. There are subtle differences but, generally speaking, there are fairly common traits across it.
Dr STONE: And just to clarify, when someone goes to become a registered and commercially licenced operator, they presumably describe exactly what they want to use this drone for and that is it?
Mr Mason : Yes.
Dr STONE: At the front end they register, 'We are going to use this for real estate,' or checking stock troughs or whatever the story is, and you do not require them to update that every five years or something like that? That a one-off?
Mr Mason : That might be a better question for CASA.
Mr McCormick : That might be a better for us, I think.
Mr Farquharson : Each certificate is issued with a number of things that the operator can do, and that is all they are authorised to do. If they want to expand that or remove something then we amend the certificate through a process.
Dr STONE: So they would come back when they might choose to do something?
Mr Farquharson : Yes.
CHAIR: The policing and regulation of that must be very difficult.
Mr Mason : We have an operations manual. It is the same as the manned aircraft environment in that everything that we do is laid out in it quite specifically: what we have to do, can do and should do, and the guidelines by which we do that. Any amendments that we need to make or any changes that we want to make have to be made in that manual, and we cannot make those changes without coming back through CASA and getting approval to do that.
Dr STONE: And that is specifically designed to meet that particular commercial operator's needs? It is not a standard manual—this is a real estate photographer, so that deals with that particular purpose.
Mr Mason : Correct—each manual would be individual to each business, yes.
Mr DREYFUS: This might be a question that is more for someone who has knowledge of visual technology or visual recording technology than unmanned aerial vehicle technology. Auto-masking technology: presumably there is a whole range of things that can be done to mask, including perhaps software that automatically pixelates any human image—any face—so that the finished product does not display whatever you instruct it not to display. Is that right?
Mr Mason : That is absolutely correct.
Mr McCormick : Following on from the comments made about Europe. Europe is, dare I say it, somewhat of an unwieldy beast when you bring the EU into play. Though they still have national interests they do have an overarching safety organisation called the European Aviation Safety Authority, and balancing those national interests versus the EU interests I think is something that they will continue to work on for some time.
When we talk about privacy—and I have already said I do not have a head of power in that area—a lot of people see privacy from the United States' perspective. Of course, the citizen's rights—to use that as a working term—in the US under privacy are somewhat different to the environment that we have here. So there is a slightly different conception there. I think that where whole thing goes—and where you and the committee were obviously going Chair—is to around privacy itself and data collection. The UAS is just one part of that. Inn some respects, to a news organisation a UAS is probably just a camera on a 200-foot-high pole; there is no difference as far as that goes.
So it is a subtle mix between the ability of these things to range and collect data is, a bit like, shall we say, some time ago when Google was driving around the streets. There is always that risk if you are vacuuming up data that you will come across that. But the environment in which the individual is protected in Australia under law for their privacy, and the environment in which the companies or organisations are respected to privacy, is the cornerstone of all that. If that is established and well understood in the legislation then we can build up from there. It is a little bit like we are going back down the other way in some respects, but I appreciate that the proliferation of these things means it has got away from us a little bit. It has expanded so quickly that we are playing a little bit of catch up.
I think that, as I said in the introduction, it is very prescient that you are actually considering this now before we see further issues. But I think the UAS part of it is only part of privacy, and only part of the data collection—albeit a very big part.
CHAIR: Do any of your counterpart agencies around the world actually cover privacy to any degree? Are you aware of that?
Mr McCormick : I recently spoke to my counterpart in the Federal Aviation Administration about this. They have a plan, or they are required to produce a plan by the end of next calendar year, for the integration of these vehicles into controlled airspace. They thought that would most probably not happen, due to the sequestration situation in the US government from some time ago, but they have been funded to do that work. That means that it is not only the technical issues that we talked about before—integrating with other aircraft et cetera and the ability of the vehicle to fly. Most controlled airspace in the world is controlled airspace because it is over populated areas and large masses of people. So you can see that, by default, in allowing the integration into controlled airspace you will naturally make the vehicle able to see a greater section of humanity, shall we say. To my knowledge, they do not have any other mandate from US congress to go into the privacy area but, as I say—and you are more aware of this than I am, most likely— from the legal point of view, privacy in the United States has different meanings and different responsibilities in the common law in the US compared to Australia. I guess the short answer is: no, I do not think so; however, I think eventually it will come their way anyway.
CHAIR: Mr Lake did you want to give a quick brief to the committee?
Mr Lake : Yes, just to follow up on that—and it is just a point of interest—I was reading some information about a bill on privacy of UAVs that I believe is in Washington as of last week. I do not have the details with me, I am afraid, but it is certainly something I can pass on. In terms of the Airservices point of view, yes, we are acutely aware of the rapid proliferation of UAV operations. We are working closely with CASA and our focus is very much the same as CASA—it is on safety, totally; our remit is not into privacy. The question of integrating operations into controlled airspace, as opposed to the segregation which we have been doing up until now, is probably our primary focus.
Mrs MARKUS: I was just thinking about the certification. If there were instances of a certified UAV operator not remaining within their remit or what they are permitted to do, what would be the processes or approach from CASA's point of view? Are there penalties? How would you approach it? Has that already happened? What are the instances?
Mr Farquharson : To my knowledge it has not happened. But we do have administrative powers to vary, suspend or cancel certificates and, if we have somebody kicking over the traces, so to speak, then we will take appropriate action. That may be to constrain what can be done; it may be to say do not do that again, depending on what the particular problem was. We have a range of powers that we can use to take the appropriate action for safety purposes.
CHAIR: Mr Mazowita, you may have some more information on this proposed law.
Mr Mazowita : With respect to the situation of the FAA, I have seen recent literature where the FAA essentially acknowledged that they had no direct role vis-a-vis privacy issues but, when they issue their operational approvals, from a safety perspective they make it a condition of that approval that the operator will comply with all federal and state laws regarding privacy.
CHAIR: Mr Hoy, VidiAir is interesting because you are probably on the cutting edge of where the technology is going. Could you give us a brief on how things have developed in this space with this technology and where it is going and perhaps give some commentary on some of the issues you have heard regarding regulation?
Mr Hoy : Thank you, Chair. I have been involved for four years with UAVs and I obtained operational certification in July last year. The primary concern for me and my colleagues has been systems reliability—which is difficult to regulate and is unregulated, as things stand—to the point where we have engaged out own microelectronics engineer because of our concerns. I think it is fair to say that the general consensus on the part of insurers and many other operators is that critical systems failure is significantly under-reported, particularly on the part of the unauthorised users. I realise this is something that is impossible for CASA to have a hand on, but some of them are flying and operating very sophisticated units, not just the cheap quads. It is now quite easy for them to obtain hexacopters and octocopters, and some are happy to pay $10,000-plus. Recently our concerns were such, given our own difficulties that we had encountered, that we undertook a microelectronics audit of a $12,000 machine—a premium-brand octocopter—in order to understand the background issues that were causing problems to us and others. The audit outcomes were of some considerable concern, our interest being to come to terms with them as we work towards building an industrial standard—not the military type operation or machine that John McCormick referred to but the smaller quadcopter, hexacopter and octocopter type units. That has been our principal interest and activity as we approach our research and development tasks.
Dr STONE: Mr Hoy, you referred to real concerns you had after your audit. What sort of concerns are you talking about? Just the machines failing, or them banging into people's TV antennas, or getting mixed up in—
Mr Hoy : A lot of the machines fail—
Dr STONE: What proportion of the machines fail?
Mr Hoy : because the standard of componentry in even the premium brands is of a hobbyist standard in a lot of cases. We found vital components missing, such as decoupling capacitors. We replaced batteries with lower internal resistance and significantly higher amperage. There was just inadequate fit-out. There were battery connector plugs that were inadequate for the power required for the unit. Each of these things is capable of causing a fly-away or a crash, as does happen and is happening, I can assure you. I could go on. We actually have furnished a long list of the difficulties we encountered to various industry parties, with some considerable interest. We and others are moving towards working through these microelectronics issues to try and come up with an industrial standard. Our equipment is being laboratory tested for temperature, vibration and shock so that we can understand what might happen in a crash.
Dr STONE: So you cannot just hijack the military standards and put those across to commercial standards?
Mr Hoy : I would not—
Mr McCormick : I think the answer there—sorry, Mr Hoy—is that the military is prepared to accept losses and in the operational sphere they do accept that some of these will not come back, as we have seen reported often in the newspapers. Of course, to the civilian world that is intolerable. We would like to get that risk as low as reasonably practicable.
Mr Hoy : That is true, and we have seen quite high-profile incidents, such as the crash and burn of an octocopter in the streets in New Zealand last year and units splaying into the crowd in a Brazilian soccer stadium. So it is a concern.
Dr STONE: Are these concerns similar, or is the rate of failure similar, for the hobby, non-commercial sector, which typically has smaller, cheaper flying things?
Mr Hoy : I would say it is of greater concern, and I would think most people that are buying a certain very popular brand of Chinese quad crash them. However, it is not only the hobbyist units. In our case, we were talking a $12,000 machine.
Ms CLAYDON: You mentioned earlier that you have supplied some of the data from your audit to commercial operators, and I am wondering if you can supply this committee with any data with regard to your findings in terms of incidents that have occurred in Australia.
Mr Hoy : I am happy to furnish the audit outcome. Certainly.
Ms CLAYDON: How close do you think you are towards developing these industrial standards?
Mr Hoy : We believe that we have overcome the problems that were determined in the audit to a large extent. We have made an appointment with CASA for the second week of March to demonstrate the machine that we believe is built to that industrial standard, with a view to having our own operational certification varied.
CHAIR: Ms Allman, I am not sure if it is in your area, but how are the operators assessed for certification? What do they have to go through and how long does it take?
Mr Allman : It is certainly not my area, Chair, no.
CHAIR: Who might be able to answer that one?
Mr Farquharson : There are two aspects of certification. One is the pilot, the controller, certificate. They are assessed against a knowledge standard and a competency standard. The second part of the assessment is in relation to the operating certificate. There is an operations manual and appropriate controls put in place that the organisation has the right set of resources to do what it is intending to do. At the end of that, the person can be certified individually as a controller or an organisation receives an operating certificate.
CHAIR: Does anyone on the panel wish to add anything else before we break? The member for Isaacs just asked, particularly to you, Mr Mason, in your role as someone who is in the industry and is looking after those members, if there is anything else you wanted to add about the prospect of greater privacy regulations coming in?
Mr Mason : From our perspective—the commercial operators—we believe that there are state systems in place already that start to address it. We accept that it is not perfect and it still needs a little finetuning, but there are basic systems there that we can build on. From the operators' perspective, it is in our interests to respect privacy and safety of the public. If we are seen to be breaching people's privacy and safety then obviously the perceptions are going to increase and it will make it harder for us to do our job. All I can say is that, from our perspective, it is in our interests to address those issues and we are quite happy to engage with the committee or any other body to bring that into effect.
CHAIR: Is it dated, do you think? Do you think there is a need for some greater regulation in the privacy sphere?
Mr Mason : From the commercial operators' perspective I would say no; from the unauthorised side, most definitely.
CHAIR: Mr Hoy, you would probably be able to offer a pretty good opinion, given your background and what your company is doing. Do you think there is a need for greater regulation in this area of drone technology?
Mr Hoy : As far as privacy is concerned?
Mr Hoy : I made a note for our own purposes, as I thought it was an interesting suggestion by Mr Dreyfus. I think in post production there is certainly scope to pixelate human features. In our own situation, we are mainly interested in industrial applications so that trespass, nuisance, privacy is not so much an issue. We have been working in trials, for instance, around the Port Kembla Steelworks real estate. Our approach, if we were to undertake it, would be to doorknock the immediate neighbourhood. I do not see it being such an issue, apart from perhaps in news gathering, that it cannot be addressed quite simply.
CHAIR: If there were privacy regulations put in place regarding drone technology and they were under CASA's remit, would you have the ability to handle that?
Mr McCormick : I think there are a number of issues that that would address, but I will follow on from Mr Hoy's comments before I get to that question, From our point of view, we are committed to working with the commercial operators that are willing to commit resources and go through the types of things that the other gentlemen have mention. It is the reality that these things are here; we cannot turn back the tide. As has been pointed out, what we have to do, of course, is segregate who is legal operator prepared to abide by regulation and who is not. The follow on to that is that if CASA received a remit—and it is my deepest desire that we do not receive such a remit; I will put that on record—it would then be a case of only being able to enforce what we know about, and we would in the Rumsfeld situation of known unknowns and unknown unknowns. That is not said glibly; that is actually the state of play.
I think we could do things around the certification entry-level control. But, again, we are interested in the safety of the vehicle, not necessarily the payload that the vehicle is carrying. So if we were to go into the area of certifying the payload, such that we insisted on things such as the member for Isaacs has mentioned—pixelating photographs of people's faces et cetera—that would make it a much, much more complex operation and a much more difficult issue for us. Certifying the entire vehicle and the payload package would introduce cost complexity and delay.
As I touched on earlier on—I know it is at the heart of the committee's deliberations—privacy is a much wider issue than just UAS. This just happens to be the focal point at the moment. I think privacy should rightly live where it should. If there were to be some restriction on import et cetera, then that is a matter for Customs and Border Protection and others. If we were to look at the payload, that may very well be something that the information commissioner has a view on. Again, given the size of our agency, we have to stay focused on the safety aspects of these vehicles. As I have said, we have no concern with supporting the commercial operators and the associations which are represented here today; it is the other ones we are concerned about. So even if I have a law, they are going to disregard it because they are disregarding it now.
CHAIR: I suppose that is the case for any authority. Having said that, do you think that there is a need for greater regulation, or does the fact that it is going to be extremely difficult to police probably negate any sort of need for it?
Mr McCormick : In our sphere within the Civil Aviation Act and the associated airspace act et cetera that we work under, we have sufficient tools and the sufficient legislative head of power to do what we have to do in the safety sphere, given, as I said, the precedence to section 3, which says we have to give our priority to safety—avoiding accidents and incidents. To go outside of that, I think, would be difficult, and a parallel discussion would be about, for instance, whether CASA should also control the Office of Transport Security and its functions. That is done in some jurisdictions around the world. Australia took the view that security and safety were separate, and long may that last. So, again, it is how the parliament decides to build the animal—so to speak—that will determine where it goes, but we certainly do not have the resources or budget to do the sort of operation required to do it justice on the privacy side.
CHAIR: Let us say that it did not go within your remit and that we are just talking about privacy regulations with an authority of some description that was looking after that. Do you think that it is needed, that it is self regulating at the moment and is okay or that it would just be unenforceable so it is probably useless to even talk about it?
Mr McCormick : I think the situation at the moment, and what I am hearing, is that the industry seems to be self regulating on the privacy side. There will of course be people out there who are flaunting that—the illegal operators. So the status quo may be acceptable, but the thing is the proliferation of the number of people applying for operating certificates, as Mr Farquharson said. We assessed a while ago that for every UAV we knew of there were six that it would did know of. I am not even sure whether that comparison is correct anymore. It has most probably gone even further away than that; that was over a year ago that I made that statement in Melbourne. The known unknowns! So it fits where we are today. But if you are looking to put in place a mechanism which will outlive the next couple of parliaments, for instance, hopefully with constant updating, then I think you have to do something to be honest.
CHAIR: Mr Lake, do you want to offer opinion on that from Airservices Australia about the need for privacy regulations?
Mr Lake : I do not think, to be honest, that I am qualified to common on it, Chair. From a personal viewpoint, not professionally, it seems to be the case.
Mr DREYFUS: Mr Mason, I want to thank the association for a very helpful submission. I just want to tease out a couple of things from it. First of all, you have got a voluntary code of conduct that the 70-odd members of your association have agreed to be bound by.
Mr Mason : 23.
Mr DREYFUS: Sorry, 23.
Mr Mason : We only represent about a third of the industry, at the moment.
Mr DREYFUS: Sorry, there are approximately 70 commercial operators, but you represent 23.
Mr Mason : We represent about a third of the total AC holders at the moment.
Mr DREYFUS: You do not speak for the remaining 50-odd and you do not know whether they abide by that code of conduct or conduct operations in accordance with it?
Mr Mason : The reality is that we do not know what those other operators are doing. We have no control over them. From an association's perspective, we try to act in the best interests of the industry as a whole not just for our members. We are very democratic, open and transparent about how we do that. We try to engage the rest of the industry as best we can, but obviously it is up to them at the end of the day whether or not they chose to join us and come on board with the procedures, systems and policies that the association is trying to put in place.
Mr DREYFUS: For this code of conduct, could you sketch what sources were used in putting that together—in other words, did you look at particular other countries or other particular documents that were helpful in compiling that code of conduct, which, helpfully, you are going to produce to the committee?
Mr Mason : As I say, the code of conduct is still a work in progress. We have drawn on a number of sources. You UBS International has a number of resources available to us. We are still wading through a lot of that. The Privacy Act puts in place certain procedures and policies that we have to abide by. There are legal measures that we have to abide by from a state perspective and we have employed those. It is still working progress; we have still a bit of work to do to finalise that code of conduct and get it signed off. Some of the members, as you can probably appreciate, are a bit hesitant sometimes to adopt more regulation and more policies that are going to govern them. We feel that we are already quite heavily regulated as it is. As I said earlier, it is in our interests to make sure that we operate safely. It is the social licence, if you like. If we do not abide by certain procedures then perception that we are doing the wrong thing increases quite dramatically, and that just makes our work and our business that much harder to do. We are doing our best to put policies and procedures in place, but it is still a work in process.
Mr DREYFUS: You touched on that social licence concept earlier in your remarks. I take it that your association's purpose in having this voluntary code of conduct is that it might spread so you get higher levels of compliance with it. Part of your objective is to build confidence in the community in relation to your operations so that people can have more confidence in the safety levels, the things you are operating, and perhaps also more confidence that there will not be intrusions into personal privacy from operations that your members or any commercial operator are conducting.
Mr Mason : Absolutely.
Mr McCormick : Chair, sitting behind us is Ms MacTavish, who is the Executive Director of the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems—AAUS. She most probably would have a few things to say about this from her members' point of view—on indulgence, if you allow her to join the table.
CHAIR: Very happy to.
Ms MacTavish : Would you like a brief overview of our association?
Ms MacTavish : Our association was established in 2009 and began operations in 2010. We work very closely with academia, government, the military and our industry representatives. We have a board of directors—15 in total. We work directly with CASA to participate on the industry boards, to make sure that we are there for the regulation, and we have been a part of setting up the advisory circulars that are coming forward. We work extremely closely with academia to look at the collaborative efforts where we can produce our technology with industry.
We have at present just over 430 members of our association across Australia. We were affiliated in the beginning with AUVSI from Washington DC, but we became our own organisation in last March—2013. We work very closely with the Department of Defence, as well as the military. We sit regularly with the Army, Air Force and Navy to make sure that we have representation there.
We host major events across the Australian association with the Avalon Airshow Pacific, and this year we will begin with land forces. We also conduct seminars and workshops across the country in all areas of the industry and domain. So we represent unmanned systems in the air, but also terrestrial and maritime as well.
CHAIR: Can you give an outline—and it is probably a lot given that your membership is quite large—about what sorts of purposes and uses of unmanned aircraft that your members find useful?
Ms MacTavish : Useful in the commercial sense? Is that where we are going?
CHAIR: Is that primarily commercial?
Mr DREYFUS: Can I ask a preliminary question to that? You have terrestrial and marine systems as well as aerial systems?
Ms MacTavish : Right. But the bulk is aerial.
Mr DREYFUS: Okay, thanks. Sorry to interrupt.
CHAIR: It is all commercial use, I gather?
Ms MacTavish : A lot of our members are also academic, so we have to keep in mind that there is R&D involved as well.
CHAIR: What are some of the major uses, specifically?
Ms MacTavish : Because we represent such a depth and breadth of industry, we have some of the largest operators—multinationals. If we want to take a look at membership, we have: Thales, Aerosonde, Insitu Pacific Boeing, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman and Cobham-General Atomics. So we start from the very big and then we move down to our medium-size companies, and these are not just companies that are operators but they are also in the area of manufacturing. We have Yamaha, so of course we are working in agriculture. We are working now directly with mining companies, and so we have depth and breadth in many areas.
And, yes, we do represent a large number of small operators as well; so individuals, or entrepreneurs or very small companies that are two to 10 people. Some of these do operate in the area of, as was mentioned already, real estate or smaller operations like that. But we work very closely with the community and our network to ensure that the areas of privacy, standards and conducts are understood to being in progress—that we are setting up the infrastructure in this country. Without the infrastructure we will never have a viable industry, so we have to work very closely with CASA, with the privacy commission and with everyone to make sure that that infrastructure is in place.
Mr DREYFUS: Can I ask one other preliminary question? Do you have shared membership, or overlapping membership, with Mr Mason's organisation, or are you rivals?
Ms MacTavish : I do not see us as rivals!
Mr Mason : Getting straight to the point!
Ms MacTavish : No, we are certainly not rivals. We have met together and at times, I believe, we have had overlap of membership.
Mr Mason : We have.
Mr DREYFUS: I can see the potential: you have manufacturers and a much broader spread, but, potentially, you have operators in there as well.
Ms MacTavish : Yes, we do.
CHAIR: Do you have a code of conduct in relation to privacy, similar to that of Mr Mason's organisation?
Ms MacTavish : A code of conduct? No. What we have done is work directly with civil libertarians and the law firm King & Wood Mallesons, and we have just presented to the Attorney-General an entire re-vamp of surveillance and privacy. That is before them, and that is the work that we have done over the past 18 months.
CHAIR: Could you give us a bit of an insight into that or is that information commercial-in-confidence at the moment?
Ms MacTavish : I cannot. But what it does do, as John spoke to earlier, is take unmanned systems away from being, let's call it, the prime suspect and put it into the perspective of everything that can invade privacy, right from your phone to a camera on a stick. It puts into perspective any technology that can surveil or invade privacy.
CHAIR: I suppose, though, from the general public's point of view, while you can walk down the road in a public place and take a photo, or your neighbour might be able to put an iPhone over the fence and take a photo, you can fly these things over people's yards and over their houses and look straight down on them and get a pretty good shot. There is a little bit of a difference with that technology and its ability to invade other people's privacy.
Ms MacTavish : We have been very cognisant in terms of what a commercial use is and what the responsibility of that commercial use is. We have also been very careful to allow the public to have their ability to have recourse and to set out what those rules will be to have recourse. We have been very cognisant of both sides of the equation in setting up what we have done.
CHAIR: I asked Mr Mason about his membership and the uses that it has. Are any of your members utilising this technology specifically for the purpose of personal data collection—for instance, is local government using it to monitor who has got a fenced pool. Is there anyone in your membership doing that sort of stuff?
Ms MacTavish : Certainly not to my knowledge, it is certainly not something that we would condone. Again, it has to follow whatever their operator's certificate denotes them to be able to do. I don't believe that there is any such activity.
CHAIR: On that point, is CASA aware of any such activity by, say, local governments or even private organisations that are specifically doing personal data collection by flying over homes and neighbourhoods?
Mr McCormick : No, not to my knowledge. We will go back and see if we have got anything back at the office. But, no, nothing comes to mind.
Ms CLAYDON: Ms McTavish, given that you do not currently have this code of conduct, but are working something up and that something is currently with the Attorney-General, how are you dealing with contemporary circumstances?
Ms MacTavish : One of the things that we have done to address building the infrastructure is working directly with insurance organisations across Australia. At present, if you want to operate commercially you have to be aware of the fact that there are liability issues. We have set up a set of standards whereby our organisation will audit a company that wants to obtain insurance. We will go and check that you have an operator's certificate, that you are in good standing as a business and that you have no record of accident. Based on that we will make a recommendation for insurance to be sought. In a way that is a code of conduct. What we are doing is really certifying that a member is in good standing before we would recommend that they actually be able to operate with insurance. We can't, of course, recommend that they be operators—that is up to CASA. But we work directly with CASA, participating on the working committees to ensure that the regulations make sense. If we have a member that we do not feel, in our assessment, is operating within their operating certificates, we certainly communicate with CASA.
Ms CLAYDON: Would you be looking at any known breaches with that operator? I suppose particularly if there were known breaches of privacy, although I accept that may not be well known, would you look at a record of breaches in terms of determining who you want to endorse?
Ms MacTavish : It is not something that we have done in the past. Once we understand where the paper that we have written for the Attorney-General based on privacy and surveillance goes then we will have a better understanding where our purview may be in that area.
CHAIR: Earlier this week, coincidentally enough, Stock & Land had a report in it about the organisation Animal Liberation utilising drones to actually fly over farms to capture if there is any sort of cruelty to animals or any breaches going on. Are these guys registered with your organisation to do that activity?
Mr McCormick : We will have to take that on notice; we will get you the answer before the end of today. What we put out to people who are operating these vehicles is that, because we go into an area where the law seems to be silent when it comes to neighbouring properties et cetera, if you are intending to operate these over someone else's property you obtain their permission before you do so, more as a matter of good manners than any legally enforceable rule, from our point of view. We will get look at that and get back to you as soon as we can.
CHAIR: So if an organisation, whether it is Animal Liberation, or whatever, specifically turned up to CASA with an application and said, 'We are using this for the purpose of obtaining information because we think those people are doing the wrong thing,' what would be CASA's response? If they met all the safety guidelines and the operator guidelines, would they get a tick-off on that application or not?
Mr McCormick : Again, I think the mens rea of the whole thing is not necessarily within our remit. If someone comes to us, unless they are proposing to do something which is egregiously illegal or obviously is something which would appear to be something we needed other advice on, such as if someone said they are showing up and they wish to fly drones all around Holsworthy or some such thing, then it would behove us to go to someone else, another department, and see whether this was something in the best interests of the Commonwealth. Having said that, the Civil Aviation Act, which of course was written before drones and operating certificates came round, basically says if there is a set of requirements that someone has to meet to get a certificate, say to be an airline or to be a maintenance organisation, if they meet those requirements then I must issue the certificate. I do not have discretion not to issue the certificate. At this stage, we are taking that same approach, as we do through all our certificates and approvals. So if someone came to CASA and said that they were going to go out and check on animals et cetera in the scenario that you have put forward, unless there was something that was illegal or would appear to be against the intent of our approval processes, then we may very well have to issue them a certificate.
Mr DREYFUS: Mr McCormick, that is because you are not looking at purpose. You are looking entirely at safety requirements; looking at the device perhaps for some purposes and looking at the qualifications of operators for other purposes.
Mr McCormick : Yes, I think that is very much the case. We have been talking about cameras, in other words, having some Olympian view or a god's eye view—because a lot of these smaller vehicles have what they call first person point of view; in other words, it is as though you are sitting in the vehicle—and these are the ones where we have seen in other states, I do not think so much in Australia but certainly in the United States, people hovering outside people's bedrooms et cetera, in an area where people could reasonably expect not to have to be concerned about their privacy. That is where we get into this area of the payload versus what the vehicle is like. At the moment there is a great risk from CASA's point of view that if we start to be involved in the payload it will continue to creep; we will have no end or no defined point where we will be able to say to somebody, 'In law that is legal;' 'In law that is illegal.' And that is not really our role, as you quite rightly said. Our focus is on the safety and the safety around the vehicle, and unless there is something that would tend us to seek advice from some other department, we would be more or less compelled to issue the certificate.
CHAIR: Thank you very much everyone for participating in this round table session. As a committee we are going to report back to the parliament outlining some of the issues that have been raised here today, and in the following sessions we are going to hold. We will consider how those issues should be pursued, or if they should be pursued at all, and the secretariat will make sure you are kept informed when we report back.
Proceedings suspended from 10 : 35 to 11 : 15