In the autumn of 2016, the Swedish Supreme Administrative Court ruled that a camera mounted on a drone is considered a CCTV camera for purposes of the Swedish Camera Surveillance Act (2013:460). The judgment meant that using a drone equipped with a camera, where the camera will be directed at a place to which the public has access, requires a license from the County Administrative Board. Since a license in principle is granted only for the prevention of crime, the normal commercial and recreational use of a drone equipped with a camera immediately became for practical purposes prohibited in Sweden. New legislation has now been passed to exempt the private use of drone cameras from the permit requirements, making drone use in Sweden legal again on 1 August 2017.

The Swedish Transport Agency estimates that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), for recreational use in Sweden. In addition, the Transport Agency has issued a little over 1,510 permits for drones for commercial use. As in manyother countries, drones are finding an increasing number of commercial applications. Apart from news and other media applications, drones are, e.g. used for surveying, inspection and aerial photography by real property brokers.

As in many countries, civil unmanned aircraft in Sweden are regulated by aviation regulations, specifically the Swedish Transport Agency’s Regulation (TSFS 2009:88) on unmanned aircraft—UAS (as amended by TSFS 2013:27 and TSFS 2014:45). Drones with an operational mass exceeding 150kg and which are likely to be subject to serial manufacturing are regulated by Regulation 216/2008.[1] Permission for these is applied for at the European aviation authority, European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Moreover, Regulation 923/2012[2] and the Swedish Transport Agency’s Regulation (TSFS 2014:71) and general guidelines for aviation (as amended by TSFS 2014:94), along with the Swedish Aviation Act (2010:500) and Aviation Ordinance (2010:770), generally regulating aviation in Sweden, also apply to drones. There are also additional restrictions on the distribution of aerial photographs.

Aside from these general regulations, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled, in a judgment of October 2016, that camera-equipped drones are also covered by the Swedish Camera Surveillance Act (2013:460). Under this Act, directing CCTV cameras towards an area to which the public has access requires a license from the County Administrative Board. In the assessment of whether a license will be granted, the County Administrative Board will weigh the interest for surveillance against the interest of integrity. In principle, a licence will be granted only to prevent crime, meaning that no licences would be granted for commercial or recreational purposes. In the aftermath of the judgment, serious concerns were raised in Swedish society and business that the judgment would stifle the rapidly growing drone industry and prevent legitimate and beneficial uses of drone technology, e.g. within rescue work, forestry and agriculture, as well as journalism.

Against this background, the Swedish Ministry of Justice moved swiftly to draw up a legislative proposal in the form of a memorandum entitled The Camera Surveillance Act and the possibilities to use drones for legitimate purposes (Sw. Kameraövervakningslagen och möjligheterna att använda drönare för berättigade ändamål). In brief, the key proposal of the memorandum was to exempt the application of the Camera Surveillance Act to surveillance conducted by a camera mounted on a drone, provided that the surveillance is not undertaken by a government agency. The memorandum was referred for consideration to a number of relevant bodies in Sweden, including central government agencies, special interest groups, local government authorities and other bodies whose activities might be affected by the proposals. Although some concerns were raised on the basis of privacy, a vast majority of the referral bodies were positive to the proposal.

As a result, the Government in May proposed and Parliament adopted a brief amendment of the Camera Surveillance Act, as follows:

“The Act shall not apply to camera surveillance from an unmanned aircraft, provided that the surveillance is conducted by a party other than a government agency.”

The legislative change entered into effect on 1 August 2017.