City Hall cited the potential for terrorist threats in banning the use of drones without a permit yesterday, after a man allegedly flew his quadcopter over the Royal Palace within view of the Queen Mother as she performed her daily exercise routine.
Police in Daun Penh district’s Chey Chumneah commune arrested German national Michael Altenhenne and brought him in for questioning on Saturday afternoon. The action followed reports from palace police that Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk spotted the drone over the royal residence’s courtyard at about 5:40pm, Royal Palace Defence Unit deputy Keo Vy confirmed.
The citywide ban followed quickly thereafter.
“The drone takes photos from the sky while the resident is taking a bath or eating in private. How do you think they will feel?” City Hall spokesman Dimanche said. “We do not know their intention. It will affect the right to privacy, and the top ministries and national offices will fear potential terrorism.”
From now on, Dimanche said, people seeking to fly their drones in the city would need permission before doing so, and those who fail to abide by the new rule will face arrest and repercussions in court.
In an interview with the Post, Altenhenne, a 41-year-old German tourist and freelance journalist, said that he only flew his DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter near the royal residence in an effort to capture Phnom Penh’s skyline including the Royal Palace.
“I think it was not a good idea to do this. [H]owever, I was not aware, and I am still not aware if I broke any Cambodian law or regulation,” he said.
Altenhenne was freed by police without charges and flew to Thailand on Sunday morning, but not without undergoing six hours of detainment and interrogation, during which, he said his privacy was violated.
“I was exposed outside in the square in front of the palace, with officers encouraging people to take photos of me,” said Altenhenne, who said he was invited by the Ministry of Tourism to report on the recent UN Word Tourism Organization/UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture.
“I was very much upset with the public exposure and that there was no tourist police to explain to me what was happening.”
He was unable to confirm whether he caught the Queen Mother on film, as his drone was confiscated by police.
“I apologise for the turmoil this has caused … but this is a violation of freedom of expression, and I’m surprised that such a regulation can be put into effect such a short time away from one incident,” he said.
But Dimanche insisted yesterday that the ban does not stem solely from one incident, but is a response to the increasing number of private firms and individuals using drones to shoot photographs and film in Phnom Penh.
Dimanche could not confirm the type of punishment or length of potential jail sentences that will be handed to locals and tourists who fail to respect the ban.
While Altenhenne agreed that regulation is necessary, he called City Hall’s response to the incident irrational and heavy-handed.
“I think there has to be a regulation as all these new technologies appear,” he said. “But while we discuss and debate them in the Western world, you ban them easily in countries like Cambodia.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUDOM TAT