Surveillance drones have been hitting the headlines in recent weeks. First we reported on the news that the police were planning to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly seen in Afghanistan, for the "routine monitoring" of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers.
Then, in the space of a few days, Merseyside Police used a remote-controlled flying CCTV machine with thermal imaging technology to capture a fleeing burglar; only to be charged by the Civil Aviation Authority 48 hours later for flying the device in a residential area without permission.
Now, from the Sunday Telegraph comes the news that the European Defence Agency has hired aerospace and defence group EADS to research how communication via satellites can be used "for the integration of unmanned aircraft systems into European airspace."
As they report:
Drones are of interest to the military and the police as surveillance tools, and could be used by immigration authorities for patrolling Britain's coastline. But concerns have been raised because the UK is already one of the most "watched" countries in Europe, with the proliferation of CCTV cameras.
The Army will start using the smaller Watchkeeper drone, built in Leicester by French defence company Thales, later this year. It is understood the Army will start testing Watchkeeper in the next few weeks, at Aberporth in west Wales, Britain's only licensed site for UAV flights. The Army hopes to get permission to fly them over training grounds in Salisbury Plain and Sennybridge in South Wales.
The MoD said it shares information with the European Defence Agency but is not directly involved in the research with EADS. The military is currently bound by the same restrictions on drones as civil operators, and can only test in restricted areas with the permission of the CAA.
This is a very worrying development. We are already watched by more CCTV cameras than any other country on earth without the state surveillance network expanding into the skies above us.
What is of most concern is that the privacy aspect is being completely ignored. The problem, it seems, is that the CAA thinks UAVs are dangerous because they have no pilot; yet no-one is asking whether these drones are actually necessary or a dangerously intrusive next-step on the road to a surveillance state?
There is more yet to come on spy drones, and we intend to keep you updated as and when it appears.
By Dylan Sharpe