Nfld. & Labrador

Harassment with camera drones 'very troubling': N.L. privacy commissioner

Following multiple reports of harassment by camera drones in St. John's, the province's privacy commissioner says he's very concerned about the airborne vehicles.

Molloy calls harassment with camera drones 'idiotic behaviour'

Donovan Molloy is Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner. (Submitted photo)

Following multiple reports of harassment by camera drones in St. John's, the province's privacy commissioner says he's very concerned about the airborne vehicles.

Rozalind MacPhail shared her story with CBC News Wednesday, describing a "stalker drone" following her movements and spying on her through the windows of her downtown apartment.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Donovan Molloy said this use of drones is "very troubling."

"We all have a right to our privacy, not to be harassed by others. It's clear in our own province's privacy act that if you do that, then you're liable for damages to the person that you're harassing," he said. 

"Based on [MacPhail's] description of the persistent nature of it, I can certainly understand her concerns."

Drones like this are becoming more common, and Rozalind MacPhail says one is buzzing her home in downtown St. John's. (CBC)

Molloy said it's particularly concerning to see a camera drone target one particular person.

"If you're really focused on an individual citizen, an individual person, for no apparent reason, you have to be aware that you're harassing that person and potentially causing them to be in fear for themselves or their family or their property." 

MacPhail explained a drone looking directly into her home through a second-storey window, something the privacy commissioner said could certainly be considered harassment.

It's difficult to conceive of circumstances in which that person is not intending either to harass her or be reckless or willfully blind.- Donovan Molloy

"The Criminal Code makes an offence of harassment if you're besetting somebody – watching somebody, repeatedly – and if you are, you must intend to have done it or be reckless or willfully blind," Molloy said.

"In these circumstances that she described … it's difficult to conceive of circumstances in which that person is not intending either to harass her or be reckless or willfully blind."

Tough to catch perpetrators

Molloy said it is best for police to investigate these types of incidents, but understands the challenges involved. 

"It's a very difficult problem, because at the same time, saying it's harassment … it's very hard to catch the people that are doing this," he said.

"Right now, I can't conceive of any change in present law that would facilitate the ability of police or other authorities to stop people from engaging in what, frankly, is idiotic behaviour"

The privacy commissioner advised anyone who feels they might be being harassed by a camera drone to try to take pictures of the drone, but not to damage it.

He said it's best to contact police, and not to engage in "vigilante justice."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show