Want to be a Peeping Tom and get off scot-free? Try using a drone.

A no better authority than lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun says its all right to drone-peep, so long as you’re not making a recording, a point in law he got straight from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.

Tien revealed this during a radio talk show after three men were picked up for flying drones during the Formula E race over the weekend.

He also said there was a case in Sham Tseng, Tsuen Wan, where a drone was often seen buzzing windows of a private estate.

In a post on his Facebook page, Tien said he had received complaints from Sham Tseng and Tsing Lung Tau that drones were buzzing homes. Residents were worried for their privacy.

Hearing about the law from the Privacy Commissioner, Tien said: “If you watch a person live through the drone and do not save the video, you won’t violate anyone’s privacy. If you save it and send it to others then you have violated privacy.”

Additionally, if a video did not show any distinctive characteristics that others recognize, such as the face or body tattoo, then it was not a violation of privacy, he added.

Tien had also asked police how a report should be made if a drone operated outside his window while he took a bath.

Under current regulations, the drone owner would not commit an offense if the drone was lighter than seven kilograms, there were few people around, and there was no threat to anyone’s safety, police told him.

He urged the Civil Aviation Department and the Privacy Commissioner to review laws relating to drones as soon as possible.

Reaffirming Tien’s comment, barrister Craig Choy Ki said drone-peeping at someone bathing without recording did not violate the privacy law. “In a legal context, the definition of personal data requires the data to be recorded in a format. Also, the person involved has to be identifiable in the data,” said Choy who is convener of the Progressive Lawyers’ Group.

However, current regulations had not caught up with the technological advances like streaming that makes no recordings, he said.

Although a drone-owner would not breach the privacy law, he added, the person might be charged with “using a computer with dishonest intent” if the drone was connected or controlled by a computer device including mobile phone, or if the drone has a CPU or structures of a computer device.

In three separate cases, police had received reports of drones present during the Formula E race.

According to article 48 of the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995, a person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property. Offenders are liable to prosecution and upon conviction face a fine and up to two years’ jail.

This article originally appeared in The Standard on 4 December 2017