A researcher from the University of Tasmania trialling a drone.
Do drones pose a new threat to our privacy, or are they just the fruits of innovative technology with benefits for governments and industry?
A mini inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra on Friday will try to answer the question.
The drone "roundtable" inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs follows the release of the 2012-13 annual report from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner last year.
Operations under investigation ... drones.
In the report, Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, said two pieces of technology — aerial drones and Google Glass — had caught the community’s attention in relation to privacy because of their potential for collecting personal information.
Speaking with Fairfax Media about the roundtable, which he dubbed a "mini" inquiry, chair and Nationals MP George Christensen said its purpose was to look at drone regulation, possible applications and privacy implications, and determine if regulatory changes were required. It is likely report back in March.
Mr Christensen cited recent reports indicating the Australian Lot Feeders Association had complained about NSW Animal Liberation flying drones over farms to capture video footage of alleged animal cruelty.
Flying drones in action
A closer look at some of the applications for flying drones.
"So it is out there and we thought that before it becomes an issue that gets away from parliament or the government we would do some work on it to see what we could come up with," Mr Christensen said.
"At the end of it the committee will go away and look through the evidence presented and maybe come up with some recommendations to government or we could alternatively look to go to a full blown inquiry - although I sincerely doubt it to be honest.
"I think this will probably get some good insight out of the issues."
Darren Turner from the School of Geography and Environmental Studies with an UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).
Mr Christensen said the committee had already received some private briefings in which it was told that there were "significant loop holes" that governments, corporations and animal liberation organisations could use to "get away with" invading people's privacy using drones.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Airservices Australia, CSIRO, the Australian Privacy Commissioner, Australian Federal Police, Australian Privacy Foundation, drone company Parrot, the Australian Law Reform Commission and others are among the invited parties asked to attend on Friday.
In a media release, the committee overseeing the inquiry said it was concerned that as drones were rapidly adopted, the regulatory framework "might not be keeping up". "Regulation must ensure that safety and privacy are not compromised by the expansion of drone use in Australia."
Melbourne's Metropolitan Fire Brigade already uses drones to survey emergency situations and is one of the 78 operators in Australia who have a licence. It recently used a "CyberQuads" drone to survey a truck hanging precariously from a freeway in Melbourne's north.
Drone start-up Flirtey and textbook company Zookal are also looking to deliver textbooks by drone in Sydney by March, though experts and academics doubt current regulation will allow it to take off. Amazon also wants to use drones to deliver goods to homes.
Animal rights activists have also used drones to spy on farmers, while Channel Nine's 60 Minutes used one when it flew over Christmas Island's detention centre. The craft later crashed into the sea. Another crash occurred in October when a drone collided with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A train driver discovered it and the footage was later uploaded to the internet.
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