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Currently the US government forbids commercial use of drones to collect aerial imagery. The FAA is supposedly reviewing this to determine what sorts of restrictions are needed to allow this to happen while minimizing threats to privacy. From the Denver Post:

Last year, Congress mandated that the Federal Aviation Administration create a plan for the safe integration of unmanned aerial vehicles into the national airspace. Those regulations should be complete by 2015, and the agency expects a commercial boom — as many as 30,000 drones airborne in the U.S. by 2020. But public fears about police spying could stall the technologically advanced industry eager to be unleashed.

What countries currently allow commercial use of drones to collect aerial imagery?

In these countries, have there been problems with invasion of privacy?

Update

The influential head of Google, Eric Schmidt, has called for civilian drone technology to be regulated, warning about privacy and security concerns. - BBC News

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2 Answers 2

UK permits 192 Private Companies [eg EDF], Government Agencies including Police and even the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC]

In the last two years the CAA has required anyone who wants to fly a small UAV in British airspace to apply for permission. The aircraft must weigh less than 20kg and operators have to abide by certain rules. These include not flying them higher than 122 metres (400ft), or further away from the operator than 500 metres – this is deemed the pilot's "line of sight"

Full List can be viewed here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/25/who-can-fly-drones-uk-airspace

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I know that Ordnance Survey are experimenting with a small drone for mapping work. Currently they are limited to flying over land they have permission for which is a problem for map making. –  iant Feb 14 '13 at 10:19
    
Though some very old (1841) law OS have the right to access private land for surveying for property deeds - boundary-problems.co.uk/boundary-problems/…? –  Mapperz Feb 14 '13 at 14:09
    
it's a CAA regulation so I guess air safety trumps map making :-) –  iant Feb 14 '13 at 14:17

Israel has recently (2007) amended the civil aviation laws to include private and commercial use of UAVs, as well as certification and permits under the Civil Aviation Authority - CAA. Due to the nature of things, civil and commercial use of UAVs up until then was done under the Israeli Air Force.

CAA say there are currently 15 civilian companies operating UAVs, though most are military contractors who test their platforms during development and sales to foreign countries and companies.

I know there are communication companies and municipalities using and procuring services by UAV operators to evaluate infrastructures and monitor real estate related issues, and serve as communications relays.

As for imagery, things get murky. On the OPERATIONS SPECIFICATIONS form for private and commercial use of UAVs, the operator must state the type of operation, including (but not limited to) aerial photography, Hence it is legal in Israel. Then again, such a form means some operations can be denied if - and I'm guesstimating - there's a possibility of a threat to security or sensitive facilities, civilian population, or invasion of privacy.

Furthermore, because a UAV is for the most part just a model aeroplane or helicopter, you can always use one with a camera and claim it's a model aeroplane. Case in point, my cousin, a model plane pilot, brought a quadrotor to use as a platform to attach a camera for photography of events, and I personally know another professional photographer that uses a hexarotor to take vertical and oblique aerial photos of archaeological excavations. They both did not file for any official permit to do that, and are not in violation of any laws that I know of.

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I'm really surprised there's not more restrictions inside the Iron Dome. –  Kirk Kuykendall Apr 15 '13 at 1:35

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