Communications on police use of UAVs

Alex Harris made this Official Information request to Privacy Commissioner

The request was partially successful.

From: Alex Harris

Dear Privacy Commissioner,

Recently it was reported that the New Zealand Police have purchased an unmanned aerial vehicle for surveillance use ("Police confirm spy drone purchase", 3News, 23 December 2012). As a new surveillance technology, I would expect the police to seek the opinion of the Privacy Commissioner about its use. I would like to request the following information under the OIA:

* All communications with the police about the use of UAVs.

I would prefer to receive an electronic response. Queries about this request will be automatically forwarded to me by the website.

With regards to s12 of the OIA, I am an NZ citizen and in NZ.

Yours faithfully,

Alex Harris

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From: Enquiries
Privacy Commissioner

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Your enquiry has been forwarded to one of our team.


We'll try to get back to you within the next 24 hours.



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From: Enquiries
Privacy Commissioner

Dear Alex,

Thank you for your email and OIA request.

Your request has been forwarded to the appropriate person and will be addressed in due course, and within the OIA timeframes.

Kind regards,

Daimhin Warner LLM (Hons)
Team Leader, Investigations (Auckland) 

Office of the Privacy Commissioner - Te Mana Matapono Matatapu
PO Box 10094 Wellington 6143 New Zealand
P +64 9 302 8680

Privacy is about protecting personal information, yours and others'. To find out how, and to stay informed, subscribe to our quarterly Privacy Newsletter.  You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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From: Katrine Evans
Privacy Commissioner

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Alex Harris

via FYI website: ref: [1][OIA #765 email]



Dear Alex


Thank you for your request for all communications between OPC and the
Police about the use of UAVs.

The information you have requested consists of a short email exchange
between our office and Police. We have summarised the information in those
emails below.

When we are acting as a regulator (for instance where we seek an
explanation from agencies about certain matters), section 116 of the
Privacy Act is relevant. This section requires us to maintain secrecy in
matters that come to our attention when we are exercising our functions.
The reason for the secrecy obligation is to make sure that we can obtain
full, complete and accurate information, to support our regulatory role.
The Commissioner only has discretion to release information where that is
necessary for the purpose of giving effect to the Act.

Section 18(c)(i) of the Official Information Act permits us to withhold
information where providing it would be contrary to provisions of another
enactment, such as our secrecy provision.

This is a situation in which we initiated the discussions with Police,
asking them to explain to us what was happening with UAVs. We were
therefore acting in our regulatory role for the purposes of this
correspondence. Our secrecy obligations are therefore engaged.

However, while we have withheld the email documents themselves, it is
possible to release a brief summary of our discussions with Police.

Summary of Information Requested

When the media reported on the Police’s recent purchase of a UAV, we
approached Police. We indicated that the use of UAVs is of interest to us
and asked about their use.

Police responded, recognising that UAV use can raise privacy issues, but
clarifying that the UAV had been purchased for evaluation purposes only.
Their view was that UAVs fit within the definition of a visual
surveillance device under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 and that it
is likely that their use will also be governed by this legislation in many
instances.  Police would be likely to establish operational guidelines if
they choose to use UAVs and would talk to us. Police referred to two
occasions where they have used drones operated by contractors [for
available details see

We agreed that it would be appropriate to engage with us when Police were
considering operational use of UAVs. We highlighted the following issues
for Police to consider:

·         Minimising, and dealing with inadvertent collection of personal
information (for instance recording activity outside a defined area of

·         operational guidance about when use of drones is and is not
appropriate for observing public places

·         safeguards to minimise the impact on individuals’ privacy (in
particular notification requirements under principle 3 of the Privacy Act
and data retention requirements under principle 9)


Right of review


Under section 28 of the Official Information Act 1982 you have the right
to ask the Ombudsmen to investigate and review our decision on your


I hope that this information is helpful for you.



Yours sincerely




Katrine Evans

Assistant Commissioner (Legal and Policy)



Katrine Evans [6]Final PC20 logo2

Assistant Commissioner (Legal and Policy)


PO Box 10-094, Wellington 6143


Privacy is about protecting personal information,
yours and others'. To find out how, and to stay
informed, [3]subscribe to our quarterly privacy
newsletter.  You can also follow us on [4]Facebook
and [5]Twitter.




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