Monthly Archives: February 2016

David Goldberg: Dronalism in the Year of the Drone

Dr David Goldberg is a member of the Advisory Board of the Information Law and Policy Centre. He has recently authored the following: [1] ”Journalism, drones, and law” in A. Koltay (ed), Comparative Perspectives on the Fundamental Freedom of Expression (Wolters Kluwer 2015); [2] ”Droning on About Journalism: Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Newsgathering” in A. Završnik (ed), Drones and Unmanned Aerial Systems (Springer 2015); [3] “Dronalism: Journalism, Remotely Piloted Aircraft, Law and Regulation” in Florida International University Law Review, Vol 10 (2); and [4]Regulators Should let ‘Dronalism’ Take Off” in Media Asia December 2015. In 2013, he co-authored Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems and Journalism (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism). In this guest post, he argues in favour of the use of drones in journalism.

Hands up who has heard of John Silva? Not many, I bet! Silva was chief engineer for Los Angeles station KTLA-TV. In 1958, he outfitted a helicopter with a TV camera and changed television news coverage forever. Fast forward 50+ years and a drone/remotely piloted aircraft (the issue of what to call the gizmos is so yesterday) is simply an analogous newer bit of kit in a (photo) journalist’s toolbox.

In my opinion, drones both can and should be allowed to be used inter alia for the purposes of newsgathering, journalism and media production: should because basically they assist newsgathering. In itself, the drone is nothing, it’s just a flying donkey. It’s what you strap on to it, e.g., a camera or data sensor, that makes a drone useful in the context of journalism/newsgathering (aka “dronalism”). As such, its deployment is protected under Article 10 ECHR (the only drone application to engage a human right?), because its use, just like a camera, for street photography facilitates newsgathering. Overly precious concerns about a subject’s identity disclosure using a device which might be difficult to spot would do well to defer to the 2015 decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Haldimann and Others v Switzerland, which found for journalists using covert filming techniques.

More generally, it has become something of a cliché to say that 2016 is the “year of the drone”. But, less reported (actually, not at all?) than yet-another-scare-story (is the industry even approached for a quote in those cases?) is the ongoing government-initiated “Public Dialogue on the use and deployment of drones in the UK”. In due course, the conclusions will be posted here (the full report is likely to be published in June). For now, one industry insider reports back from a recent cross-government working group on remotely piloted aircraft meeting:

“‘The public’s overwhelming feeling is they are excited by drone technology, they are not concerned by state, military or commercial use as ‘they know what they are doing’”.

The category of concern is the recreational/consumer user and not even the hobbyist who is likely to be a member of a group or club with a sense and culture of professionalism and rule-following.

To return, finally, to dronalism, here’s a thought: it doesn’t fit into any of the aforementioned categories! As the amicus curiae brief by News Media in the US National Transportation Safety Board Huerta v Pirker litigation states, “the publication of news is not a ‘commercial’ activity comparable to the sale of goods and services”. That activity and the activities pursuant to it are protected – that conclusion should hold whether with regard to US constitutional concerns or the European fundamental rights regime.

Upcoming seminar, 8 March 2016, Senate House: Surveillance and Human Rights

This collaborative Seminar is organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the Information Law and Policy Centre of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Human Rights Consortium of the School of Advanced Study. It forms part of a Seminar Series on ‘Surveillance and Human Rights’.

This lecture series highlights common themes facing Commonwealth governments: how to balance civil liberties with the proper scope of government surveillance. With the issue of surveillance and government accountability constantly in the news, the series will look at the interaction of the state’s responsibility for security, with the role of independent actors in a modern democracy. Where are the boundaries between ‘social responsibility’ and unwarranted self –censorship? What are the rights and responsibilities of the pillars of British democracy, and the importance of freedom of speech embedded in the press, or university debate? What are the legitimate activities of governments faced with the challenge of the explosion of social media and the internet as alternative means of information and communication, and the defence of democracy in a digital age? Who should remain exempt from surveillance? Is transparency both feasible and desirable? Is secrecy essential in the State’s requirement to protect the public from terrorist attack?  Or is surveillance and the accompanying raft of legislation and intrusion undermining individual human rights and values, to the point of oppression?


Kirsty Brimelow QC specialises in international human rights, criminal law, public international, constitutional and international criminal law. She is instructed in the most serious, complex and prominent cases nationally and internationally. Kirsty is an experienced trial barrister. She has defended defendants and acted for Claimants as a junior and then as Queen’s Counsel before the Criminal and Civil courts respectively, in England and Wales, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, Courts Marital and Courts of Appeal in the Caribbean, the Court of Appeal in the British Virgin Islands, the European Court of Human Rights and the High Court in Gibraltar. Kirsty frequently advises before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the ECOWAS court in Abuja Nigeria, the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, the Superior Tribunal of Santander Colombia, the Supreme Court and Constitutional Courts of Colombia and the UN judicial processes and International Criminal Court.

Silkie Carlo is a Policy Officer in Technology and Surveillance at Liberty. Since joining in November 2015, she has been focused on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, contributing to Liberty’s expert legal, policy and technical analysis, and promoting surveillance powers that are human rights compliant. Before joining Liberty, Silkie provided technical training to journalists and lawyers at risk and worked for Edward Snowden’s official defence fund.


Dr Judith Townend is lecturer and director, Information Law and Policy Centre, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. In autumn 2015 the Information Law and Policy Centre hosted an ad hoc group of academics and practitioners that produced a working review of the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, looking at the legislative provenance of each clause. Judith has a particular interest in the transparency and accountability of surveillance powers and their effect on journalism and public communication.

Upcoming seminar, 16 March: Openness in Britain 2016 – Where Are We Now?

  • Date/time: Wednesday 16 March, 18.00-19.30 (registration from 17.45)
  • Place: Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London
  • Book your free place at this link

The UK’s coalition government has said it is committed to making Britain the most open administration in the world, pushing a series of open data innovations through the Open Government Partnership (OGP). On the other hand, there has been a rumble of discontent with the Freedom of Information regime, even before Tony Blair despaired that he ever introduced it. In parallel, the devolved administrations have begun to push their own FOI and open data agendas. These tensions have gathered pace since 2015 with judicial rulings, the formation of an Independent Commission on FOI and a powerful counter reaction from civil society and the media. This seminar brings together an expert panel to explore the advances, tensions and controversy and answer the question ‘where are we now with openness’?

Panel (to be confirmed): Maurice Frankel, Campaign for Freedom of Information; Ben Worthy, Birkbeck Department of Politics; Heather Brooke, investigative journalist and professor of journalism, City University London.


About this seminar series:The Openness and…” Seminar Series is a programme of seminars that explores the concept of openness – a defining feature of modern political discourse – in its various applications and contexts. It looks at openness from civil, legal, historical and technical perspectives, as well as from local and international perspectives. Efforts towards openness, such as mandatory reporting, freedom of information, whistleblowing, open data, information activism, public accounting etc. are all concerned with providing access to information. The series brings together specialists in diverse fields concerned with information collection, management, use, release and re-use to discuss the methods, politics and repercussions of access to information. The seminars are open to all and the conveners welcome input from the public as well as academics and practitioners. Contact details for the Information Law and Policy Centre at this link.