The Drone Industry in Uganda: A multifaceted Pandora's Box

Godfrey Lutaaya Sept. 30, 2022

Not a day goes by without another spectacular story about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. However, the increased use of drones in Uganda and elsewhere in the World has led to privacy and Data protection concerns among citizens and Privacy Advocates.

(Image credit: Getty)

Definition and origin of the term drone

The term “drone” is now synonymous with a machine that flies above us, but the word itself has many applications and meanings extending past this more recent man-made definition. “drone” is also the term that the media use and, therefore, the term that is best known among the general public.

In the official vocabulary of the U.S. Army, a drone is defined as “a land, sea, or air vehicle that is remotely or automatically controlled.

There may be as many different kinds as there are families of weapons: terrestrial drones, marine drones, submarine drones, and even subterranean drones imagined in the form of fat mechanical moles. Provided there is no longer any human crew aboard, any kind of vehicle or piloted engine can be “dronized

More drones in the public: Increased risk to privacy

Not a day goes by without another spectacular story about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones: In Uganda, drones delivering antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to remote islands were launched; they have also been deployed for election inspection in the recently concluded by-elections in Uganda, agricultural businesses and farm projects to daily commercial use.

In Kenya, an air cargo company called Astral Aerial started using drones in 2017, offering a wide range of services from job tracking to aerial mapping, oilfield exploration, and last-mile delivery. 

In Morocco, drones are being used to survey Casablanca port facilities and monitor ongoing construction as a way of ensuring contractors meet their deadlines.

In October 2016, Zipline, a San Francisco-based robotics company was launched in Rwanda. Their drones delivered and provided doctors with instant access to vaccines and blood donations every day.

This increased use of drones in Uganda and elsewhere in the World has led to privacy and Data protection concerns among citizens and Privacy Advocates.

Drones pose a particular challenge to privacy because of their technological capacity, many drones are small and they have the ability to conduct surveillance on individuals without being observed, this is specifically true of new drone and innovative drones with the size of an insect, drones have the ability to look into private spaces at very close quarters due to their technical capabilities, they can be fitted with ordinary and infrared cameras and have sense mechanisms that give them unique abilities to access private spaces, additionally, drones are more widely available to the general public and this great access come with greater risks.

To make matters worse, data subjects always lack knowledge that their personal data is being processed by drones, it is also hard to understand the type of equipment the drone possesses, what data it collected, and for what purpose.

The Gap: The need for more extensive data protection and privacy guidelines for the drone industry

The term privacy has been defined to mean the right of a person and the person’s property to be free from unwarranted public scrutiny and exposure.

Privacy has always been a fundamental public concern world over and it has widely become more known due to the rapidly growing technology world over, forcing nations to pass laws and policies to ensure that this fundamental human right is protected from abuse by both the government and private individuals. This Fundamental human right concern has been exacerbated further by the rise of drones.

In our Constitution, it is enshrined under Article 27, in that Article, it is provided that no person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication, or other property. 

The right to Privacy is further enshrined under the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019, which provides Ugandans with the strongest safeguards of their right to privacy as enshrined in Article 27 of the Constitution.

The civil aviation (remotely piloted aircraft systems) regulations, regulation 44(1) highlights privacy concerns of a person and property, it does this by prohibiting any person from conducting operations using drones RPAS fitted with cameras or other sensing equipment and it requires the operator to operate them in a responsible way that ensures the privacy of other persons and their property.

Regulation 44 sub-regulation 2 is to effect that no person shall use an RPAS to (a), conduct surveillance of; (i) a person without their consent, (ii) private real property without the consent of the owner. Regulation 44(2)(b) further prohibits taking a photograph or filming an individual without the individual’s consent for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating the photograph or film.

The regulations provided by the Civil Aviation Authority only cater to Visual Line of Sight drones (VLOS) but do not address the usage of Beyond Visual Line of Sight Drones (BVLOS). The regulations also do not fully address the challenge of a right to privacy that drones are capable of infringing on. 

Guideline 8 of the Uganda Communications Commission guidelines for the operation of remotely piloted aircraft (rpas)/drones in Uganda. In a clumsy way has a provision about privacy: before deployment of a drone in Uganda,  drone operators must have a copy of the data protection and privacy clearance certificate or letter from the National Information Technology Authority Uganda issued under the Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019.


Be mindful of time.

It's prudent that drone operators should fly their drones in times when people are not too concentrated. According to the Spanish Data Protection Authority,  this helps to Minimise the presence of persons and objects that allow for their identification in the area of the operation.

Define the purpose of the images to be captured.

Once you have defined the purpose, it then becomes easy for you to capture images that are only necessary for that purpose. This would reduce capturing images that are not necessary and hence limit the risk of infringing on people’s right to privacy.

Consider anonymization and pseudonymization

The Spanish Data Protection Authority recommends this because they  Promote and apply privacy features from design such as adjusting the resolution of the image to the minimum necessary to execute the purpose of the processing and reduce the granularity of geolocation for the same purpose.

The Need for Data Protection guidelines for the drone industry.

The current legal framework does not fully address the privacy challenges that come with drones, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Personal Data Protection Office should come up with guidelines that are uniform for drones and the closed-circuit (CCTV) industry in Uganda.

This is because unlike before when Ugandans considered security cameras to be a preserve of business establishments, government, or of homes of the rich and powerful, nowadays every homestead wants to benefit from the security surveillance that CCTV offers. 

Data protection and Privacy training 

Drone operators in Uganda need to be trained on the current legal framework governing drones as well as the responsibilities they hold as data collectors, controllers, or processors. They need to be aware of the consequences that can result from failure to comply with data protection laws.


Even though the right to privacy is not unlimited and can be limited where it is fair and justifiable in an open and democratic society. It is important to note that the prevalent use of drones in society with their technological advancements like the ability to capture audiovisual, video visual personal data using highly sensitive cameras and from a long distance that the person being affected might not notice calls for privacy concerns from all the stakeholders

Lutaaya is a Legal assistant at Unwanted Witness Uganda. Email: