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Sweden has just made it a whole lot harder to fly camera drones

With new drones hitting the market all the time – among them ultra-portable offerings such as DJI’s Mavic and GoPro’s Karma – you can bet we’re going to see an uptick in sales of the remotely controlled flying machine in the run up to Christmas.

But depending on where you live, getting the thing off the ground isn’t always as straightforward as you might think. While the authorities in some countries discourage owners from launching their machines in urban areas or over crowded places for safety reasons, the Swedish powers-that-be appear to be focusing more on another issue that we don’t tend to hear so much about when it comes to quadcopters: privacy.

On Friday, the country’s highest court made it a whole lot harder for drone enthusiasts to fly their copters in public places after it ruled that they are no different to security cameras. It means owners with cameras on their copters now need to acquire a permit before they can fly their machine.

The ruling by the Scandinavian country’s Supreme Administrative Court overturns a decision last year made by a lower district court that said camera-equipped unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) should not be classified as surveillance devices.

In case you’re wondering where that places cars’ dash cams and cyclists’ helmet cams, well, they’re in the clear because those devices are operated in the immediate proximity of the user.

So now, whether you’re a UAV-owning Swedish citizen, or visiting the land of the midnight sun hoping to grab some dramatic shots with your quadcopter, you’ll now need to spend a few bucks on applying to county administrators for a surveillance camera permit. Though even then, there’s no guarantee they’ll grant it.

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Initial reaction to the ruling from drone enthusiasts on a DJI forum was, understandably, one of disbelief and disappointment. One said it had “robbed” them of their hobby, while someone else suggested the government had “a serious hang-up about surveillance cameras.”

Another, however, seemed less concerned, questioning how the law could be effectively enforced.

One Swedish-based poster on the forum said simply that the ruling “makes no sense,” adding that “the people on the court must have been drunk or something.”