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From Olympic opening ceremonies to public safety, drone applications have come a long way.

In fact, their modern applications are set to almost double the total value of the commercial drone market from $22.5 billion to $42.8 billion between 2020-2025, at a 13.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

Naturally, such diverse and complex uses can go quickly awry if not monitored and regulated correctly by governments—yet in some cases, it’s because of governments that drones’ uses border on sinister.

This in-depth map from Surfshark explores the murky guidelines surrounding drone privacy laws around the world, and some case studies of how they’re used in every region.

How Are Drone Privacy Laws Classified?

According to the map researchers, drone and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) regulations typically fall into one of the following buckets:

  1. Outright ban
  2. Effective ban
  3. Visual line of sight required
    Pilots need to be able to see the drones at all times, and must usually obtain a license or permit
  4. Experimental visual line of sight
    Pilots can let the drone fly outside their field of vision e.g. during a race
  5. Restrictions apply
    Drones need to be registered, and/or additional observers are required
  6. Unrestricted
    When drones are flown around private property and airports, and under 500 feet (150 meters)
  7. No drone-related legislation

Categories are assigned based on legislation as of October 2020.

Clearly, there is some overlap among these categories. They are highly dependent on judgment calls made by specific legal authorities, and change based on what a drone is being used for.

Explore the drone privacy laws in your specific country here:

Country/Territory Continent Drone Legal Status (Oct. 2020)
Afghanistan Asia Unrestricted
Albania Europe No drone-related legislation
Algeria Africa Outright ban
Andorra Europe Visual line of sight required
Angola Africa No drone-related legislation
Antigua and Barbuda North America Experimental visual line of sight
Argentina South America Unrestricted
Armenia Europe No drone-related legislation
Aruba North America Visual line of sight required
Australia Oceania Experimental visual line of sight
Austria Europe Unrestricted
Azerbaijan Europe Visual line of sight required
Bahamas, The North America Unrestricted
Bahrain Asia No drone-related legislation
Bangladesh Asia Unrestricted
Barbados North America Outright ban
Belarus Europe No drone-related legislation
Belgium Europe Visual line of sight required
Belize North America Effective ban
Benin Africa No drone-related legislation
Bermuda North America Visual line of sight required
Bhutan Asia Effective ban
Bolivia South America No drone-related legislation
Bosnia and Herzegovina Europe No drone-related legislation
Botswana Africa Visual line of sight required
Brazil South America Visual line of sight required
Brunei Darussalam Asia Outright ban
Bulgaria Europe Effective ban
Burkina Faso Africa No drone-related legislation
Burundi Africa No drone-related legislation
Cabo Verde Africa Visual line of sight required
Cambodia Asia No drone-related legislation
Cameroon Africa Visual line of sight required
Canada North America Experimental visual line of sight
Cayman Islands North America Experimental visual line of sight
Central African Republic Africa No drone-related legislation
Chad Africa Unrestricted
Chile South America Visual line of sight required
China Asia Experimental visual line of sight
Colombia South America Visual line of sight required
Comoros Africa No drone-related legislation
Congo, Dem. Rep. Africa No drone-related legislation
Congo, Rep. Africa No drone-related legislation
Costa Rica North America Visual line of sight required
Cote d’Ivoire Africa Outright ban
Croatia Europe Visual line of sight required
Cuba North America Outright ban
Curacao North America Visual line of sight required
Cyprus Europe Visual line of sight required
Czech Republic Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Denmark Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Djibouti Africa No drone-related legislation
Dominica North America No drone-related legislation
Dominican Republic North America Visual line of sight required
Ecuador South America Visual line of sight required
Egypt, Arab Rep. Africa Effective ban
El Salvador North America No drone-related legislation
Equatorial Guinea Africa No drone-related legislation
Eritrea Africa No drone-related legislation
Estonia Europe Unrestricted
Ethiopia Africa No drone-related legislation
Faroe Islands Europe Unrestricted
Fiji Oceania Visual line of sight required
Finland Europe Experimental visual line of sight
France Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Gabon Africa No drone-related legislation
Gambia, The Africa No drone-related legislation
Georgia Europe Visual line of sight required
Germany Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Ghana Africa Experimental visual line of sight
Gibraltar Europe Effective ban
Greece Europe Unrestricted
Greenland North America Visual line of sight required
Grenada North America No drone-related legislation
Guam Oceania Unrestricted
Guatemala North America No drone-related legislation
Guinea Africa No drone-related legislation
Guinea-Bissau Africa No drone-related legislation
Guyana South America Experimental visual line of sight
Haiti North America No drone-related legislation
Honduras North America No drone-related legislation
Hong Kong SAR, China Asia Visual line of sight required
Hungary Europe Unrestricted
Iceland Europe Visual line of sight required
India Asia Visual line of sight required
Indonesia Asia Visual line of sight required
Iran, Islamic Rep. Asia Outright ban
Iraq Asia Outright ban
Ireland Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Israel Asia Visual line of sight required
Italy Europe Visual line of sight required
Jamaica North America Visual line of sight required
Japan Asia Experimental visual line of sight
Jordan Asia Unrestricted
Kazakhstan Europe No drone-related legislation
Kenya Africa Effective ban
Kiribati Oceania No drone-related legislation
Korea, Dem. People’s Rep. Asia No drone-related legislation
Korea, Rep. Asia Visual line of sight required
Kosovo Europe Visual line of sight required
Kuwait Asia Outright ban
Kyrgyz Republic Asia Outright ban
Lao PDR Asia Unrestricted
Latvia Europe Unrestricted
Lebanon Asia No drone-related legislation
Lesotho Africa No drone-related legislation
Liberia Africa No drone-related legislation
Libya Africa No drone-related legislation
Liechtenstein Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Lithuania Europe Visual line of sight required
Luxembourg Europe Visual line of sight required
Macao SAR, China Asia Visual line of sight required
Madagascar Africa Outright ban
Malawi Africa Visual line of sight required
Malaysia Asia Effective ban
Maldives Asia Effective ban
Mali Africa No drone-related legislation
Malta Europe Unrestricted
Marshall Islands Oceania No drone-related legislation
Mauritania Africa No drone-related legislation
Mauritius Africa Visual line of sight required
Mexico North America Visual line of sight required
Micronesia, Fed. Sts. Oceania No drone-related legislation
Moldova Europe No drone-related legislation
Monaco Europe Unrestricted
Mongolia Asia No drone-related legislation
Montenegro Europe Visual line of sight required
Morocco Africa Outright ban
Mozambique Africa No drone-related legislation
Myanmar Asia Effective ban
Namibia Africa Visual line of sight required
Nauru Oceania No drone-related legislation
Nepal Asia Visual line of sight required
Netherlands Europe Visual line of sight required
New Caledonia Oceania No drone-related legislation
New Zealand Oceania Experimental visual line of sight
Nicaragua North America Outright ban
Niger Africa No drone-related legislation
Nigeria Africa Effective ban
North Macedonia Europe Visual line of sight required
Norway Europe Visual line of sight required
Oman Asia Effective ban
Pakistan Asia No drone-related legislation
Palau Oceania No drone-related legislation
Panama North America Unrestricted
Papua New Guinea Oceania Visual line of sight required
Paraguay South America No drone-related legislation
Peru South America Visual line of sight required
Philippines Asia Visual line of sight required
Poland Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Portugal Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Puerto Rico North America Experimental visual line of sight
Qatar Asia Unrestricted
Romania Europe Visual line of sight required
Russian Federation Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Rwanda Africa Experimental visual line of sight
Samoa Oceania No drone-related legislation
San Marino Europe No drone-related legislation
Sao Tome and Principe Africa No drone-related legislation
Saudi Arabia Asia Experimental visual line of sight
Senegal Africa Outright ban
Serbia Europe Unrestricted
Seychelles Africa Visual line of sight required
Sierra Leone Africa No drone-related legislation
Singapore Asia Experimental visual line of sight
Sint Maarten (Dutch part) North America Experimental visual line of sight
Slovak Republic Europe Visual line of sight required
Slovenia Europe Outright ban
Solomon Islands Oceania Visual line of sight required
Somalia Africa No drone-related legislation
South Africa Africa Experimental visual line of sight
South Sudan Africa No drone-related legislation
Spain Europe Experimental visual line of sight
Sri Lanka Asia Experimental visual line of sight
St. Kitts and Nevis North America No drone-related legislation
St. Lucia North America Unrestricted
St. Martin (French part) North America Experimental visual line of sight
St. Vincent and the Grenadines North America No drone-related legislation
Sudan Africa No drone-related legislation
Suriname South America No drone-related legislation
Swaziland Africa Visual line of sight required
Sweden Europe Unrestricted
Switzerland Europe Unrestricted
Syrian Arab Republic Asia Outright ban
Taiwan Asia Visual line of sight required
Tajikistan Asia No drone-related legislation
Tanzania Africa Visual line of sight required
Thailand Asia Visual line of sight required
Timor-Leste Asia No drone-related legislation
Togo Africa No drone-related legislation
Tonga Oceania No drone-related legislation
Trinidad and Tobago North America Experimental visual line of sight
Tunisia Africa No drone-related legislation
Turkey Europe Unrestricted
Turkmenistan Asia No drone-related legislation
Turks and Caicos Islands North America Unrestricted
Tuvalu Oceania No drone-related legislation
Uganda Africa Experimental visual line of sight
Ukraine Europe Visual line of sight required
United Arab Emirates Asia Visual line of sight required
United Kingdom Europe Experimental visual line of sight
United States North America Experimental visual line of sight
Uruguay South America Visual line of sight required
Uzbekistan Asia Outright ban
Vanuatu Oceania Visual line of sight required
Venezuela, RB South America Unrestricted
Vietnam Asia Unrestricted
Yemen, Rep. Asia No drone-related legislation
Zambia Africa Visual line of sight required
Zimbabwe Africa Experimental visual line of sight

So How Are Drones Used Worldwide?

The myriad of drone uses are literally and metaphorically up in the air—while they originated in military needs, drone uses now range from hobbies such as aerial photography to supporting disaster relief.

The following regional maps show privacy laws in closer detail, while also highlighting interesting case studies on how drones are used.

North America

Drone Privacy Laws 820px North America
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

According to the latest drone numbers, 70.5% of registered U.S. drones are recreational, but these proportions may soon decline in favor of commercial uses. As of December 2020, civilian drones are allowed to fly over populated areas, a step towards fulfilling their potential in package delivery.

Meanwhile, countries like Mexico are beginning to rely on drones to combat crime, with good results. In the city of Ensenada, a single drone’s surveillance patrol resulted in a 10% drop in overall crime rates in 2018. Drones are increasingly being used to monitor illicit activity such as drug trafficking routes.

South America

Drone Privacy Laws 820px South America
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

Interestingly, the environmental applications of drones come into play in the Amazon rainforest. An indigenous tribe in Brazil is using drones to track levels of deforestation and forest fires—and presenting that data evidence to authorities to urge them to act.

Across the continent, drones are also in place to deliver everything from hospital supplies to life jackets in Chile and El Salvador.

Europe

Drone Privacy Laws 820px Europe
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

The first unmanned, radio-controlled aircraft test flight occurred in the United Kingdom in 1917. The Kettering Aerial Target (or “The Bug”) carried 180 pounds of explosives and became the basis for modern missiles.

While Europe has some of the most liberal drone privacy laws today, that doesn’t mean they’re lenient. Even among countries that allow experimental visual lines of sight (such as Finland and Portugal), special permissions are required.

Middle East and Central Asia

Drone Privacy Laws 820px Middle east and central asia
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

The military applications of drones persist in this region. Iran was one of the first to use armed drones and continues to do so, while simultaneously banning their public use.

Neighboring Turkey also relies on kamikaze drones, augmented by AI and facial recognition, to strengthen border security.

Rest of Asia and Oceania

Drone Privacy Laws 820px Rest of Asia Oceania
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

China-based DJI is the world’s largest drone manufacturer, dominating 70% of the global market. Across Asia, drones have been in use for mass surveillance, particularly in China. In recent times, drones also track compliance with strict COVID-19 guidelines in Malaysia and Singapore.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Nokia is testing out a drone network to provide a more rapid response to future natural disasters. The relief capabilities include disseminating more real-time updates and monitoring evacuation progress.

Africa

Drone Privacy Laws 820px Africa
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

While many parts of Africa haven’t developed any drone-related laws yet, promising innovation is rearing its head. Medical drones are already saving lives in Rwanda, delivering supplies in as little as 15 minutes.

In the same vein, the pioneer African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) opened in Malawi. The academy promotes drone usage for humanitarian and disaster preparedness, and aims to equip individuals with the relevant skills.

Towards Greater Heights?

As the uses of drones evolve over time, so will their legal status and the privacy concerns surrounding them. However, the adoption of any technology is always accompanied by a certain level of skepticism.

With drones, it remains to be seen whether they’ll mostly occupy the role of a friend or a foe for years to come—and that power lies only in the hands of those who remotely control them.

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