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Police surveillance drones coming to a sky near you

At last week's meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, (April 11) board members gave their approval for the purchase by the PSNI of "Unmanned Aerial Systems" (UAS).

However a UK organisation set up with a view of "defending civil liberties" and "protecting privacy" has said that as surveillance technology increases the risk of abuse "increases massively".

Welcoming the decision of the Policing Board, the DUP Group Leader Robin Newton said: "I welcome the fact that the board has given its approval for the PSNI purchase of Unmanned Aerial Systems.

"UAS will provide a useful tool in the battle against crime and will help to keep the public safe.

"It is essential that the police embrace the use of new technologies in order to allow them to carry out their duties.

"The so-called "drones" will be of use various fields including the realm of public order. With the G8 coming up, I hope that these valuable technologies will form a part of the operation around this major conference.

"The use of the drones will take place within a robust legal framework that ensures the safety of the public at all times.

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"The use of unmanned aerial systems will also be useful in helping to cut back on the costs that arise from the deployment of helicopters. Keeping the public safe, whilst at the same time delivering good value for taxpayers money through the deployment of UAS is a welcome step", added Robin Newton.

Nick Pickles, Director of Big Brother Watch said: "Surveillance, like policing, is based on consent.

"We accept the right of the state to place people under surveillance, providing there are legitimate grounds to do so. The counter-balance to that is that the state does not place people under surveillance where there is no suspicion of wrongdoing. While this distinction may – under some strain – suit the current surveillance landscape, the use of drones clearly challenges the premise that underpins this distinction.

"It would be totally wrong for the police to start looking into everyone's garden without any cause to do so and drones make it easier to put wide areas under surveillance where there is absolutely no immediate reason to do so. As the technology becomes more available the risks of abuse increase massively, from peering into people's bathroom windows to trying to intimidate people by making them feel like they are being watched or followed."

He said: "The long-term potential of using UAV and UAS devices in situations where human life would be endangered is clearly a benefit, from fire control to search and rescue missions.

"Equally, the dangers of hyper-intrusive surveillance technology becoming increasingly accessible cannot be understated.

"The pressing challenge is for the law to ensure a framework is in place where the benefits of new technology can be realised, without the risks to liberty and privacy that left unchecked could undermine public trust in the entire law enforcement system."

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