- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Police in the U.K. have agreed to begin using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for certain law enforcement operations, including burglaries, seizes, protests, search-and-rescue missions and other “high risk” incidents.

More than a quarter of the 43 territorial police forces across England and Wales will start making plans to use camera-equipped drones after the successful completion of a pilot program there convinced senior law enforcement officials that the light-weight devices are a worthy alternative to helicopters, canines and even traditional foot patrols, The Times reported this week.

Steve Barry, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s (NPCC) spokesman on drones who doubles as assistant chief constable for the Sussex Police, told the paper that UAVs capable of broadcasting live video footage from crimes scenes proved to be “efficient and effective” enough to motivate officials to get more devices off the ground.

“You could send up the drone and use the videolink before making a decision how to proceed,” he told the paper.

National guidelines for the use of police drones in the U.K. are already being drawn up, the Times reported, and Mr. Barry said the devices will be reserved for the most critical of missions for the time being.



“Low-level crime would not justify a drone being deployed over back gardens of people’s houses,” he told the paper.

In a statement, the NPCC said the program will be overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority and that flight paths will be restricted in accordance with existing airspace regulation over places like airports, highways and seaports. If the program proves to be a success, then the British government may soon consider if expanded drone usage could “enhance operational capability in law enforcement and counter terrorist work, including support for emergency response or for public order events.”

Privacy advocates across the pond aren’t enthused by the announcement, however, with Big Brother Watch, a London-based campaign group, warning this week that proper civil liberties protections must be implemented before the police put a fleet of robotic, flying cameras across the U.K.

“That there is so little information about drones, what they can do and what they can see causes anxiety to many people. Today’s announcement that the police will deploy these flying eyes as an alternative to helicopters and dogs when investigating crime and policing public events will only add to this anxiety,” BBW’s chief exec Renate Samson told Ars Technica.

“Without published guidelines and proper conversation with the public about when and how this technology will be used the police could find themselves fielding complaints about infringements to privacy rather than reassuring the public that the technology is keeping them safe,” she added.

A list of drone-permit holders available on the CAA websites suggests that seven police department across the U.K. have already been approved to use UAVs. In the United States, meanwhile, AFP reported in September that at least 60 police agencies from coast-to-coast have asked American regulators for permission to fly drones, and that more than two dozen departments already have the devices in their arsenal.

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