UK 'spy-in-the-sky' police drones coming

Spy coming to a sporting event near you
Spy coming to a sporting event near you

Already in use in war theaters, drones have been approved for similar use in the US and can now be expected in the UK. “I see unmanned systems as part of the future. There is an aircraft over London all the time – every day, giving images back. Why does it need to be a very expensive helicopter?”, said Superintendent Richard Watson.

He added, says the Telegraph report, “any drones used by police should be cost-efficient to convince the public they are justified against fears of a ‘Big Brother’ state.” Talking of which, Big Brother Watch was quick to voice its concerns. “At a time when police budgets are under immense pressure and the public see fewer officers on the beat,” it says, “is it really the best time for the police to be buying new toys to spy on us from thousands of feet in the air? Supt Watson seems to be willfully ignoring all the evidence about how ineffective CCTV is at stopping crime and the serious civil liberties questions about how these machines could be abused.”

Mission creep is the big concern for civil liberties activists. Apart from vastly increasing the public surveillance capabilities of the police – and anyone else able to use them – drones could be used to make Google’s drive-by SpyFi look pedestrian.

“Yet again,” says Big Brother Watch, “we’re seeing military hardware re-designed to be used in civilian environments when there is no clear pressing reason to do so, other than the profits of the companies involved.” However, the views of two UK watchdogs is yet to be made clear: the Information Commissioner who is tasked with protecting people’s legal privacy, and the Health and Safety Executive. After all, as Nicole Martinelli reported on the International Journalists Network, “These aren't little balsa wood airplanes, but ‘flying lawnmowers,’ that take skill to fly, frequently crash and can seriously hurt you or bystanders.” The danger of being hit by a flying lawnmower is, or should be, of some concern to the HSE.

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