The Swedish police have said they would like to use drones to collect evidence at the sites of accidents, but with several high-profile cases of potential abuse, the authorities feel uneasy about the accessibility of equipment that collects overhead footage. Drones have now become affordable and are easy to buy. A quick search on internet auctioneers site eBay spits out several models priced around $150.
"It's a growing problem when just anyone can operate one of these things," Swedish privacy activist and writer Oscar Swartz told the TT news agency. "Our imagination is the only thing that places restrictions on how they are used, for example to spy on other people."
Authorities in neighbouring Norway have received several complaints of drones used in a way that potentially violates privacy, while the German Pirate Party used a drone at an election campaign event attended by the chancellor.
In Sweden, the Transport Agency (Transportstyrelsen) issues permits to operate drones. In a 2012 report, the state agency noted that drones could weigh as little as one kilogramme and up to 150 for the biggest machines. At the time, the state agency had issued 90 drone permits. Ten of those permits were awarded to companies that were researching and developing drones. Official permission is required also for commercial use, such as photographing houses.
"Civilian unmanned aerial vehicles flown in Sweden today are limited to flying within sight of the pilot, and at a height lower than that at which most manned vehicles fly," the report noted. "Additionally, there are strict restrictions to what they can fly over."
Swedish authorities have been looking at whether rules and regulations should be updated, with no doubt expressed about drones being part of the future airscape.
"Drones are here to stay," the report authors stated.
At Sweden's national police bureau, Riskpolisstyrelsen, officers said there was not yet a need for updated legislation.
"Presently, there is no justification to expanding the law," unit chief Per Engström told TT, while admitting that the technology, also in the hands of the police, posed potential problems. An internal police report into the matter will be concluded in the next few months.
"There are of course integrity problems with the police using unmanned aerial vehicles," Engström said. "It requires that we have the right authorization, and that it is used when a preliminary investigation has been opened."