Drones and Surveillance

February 27, 2009 by stanza Leave a reply »
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Image of new Police CCTV gear.

Remote-controlled drones are already used widely by the military. And they are coming to a city near you.

Now ministers believe they are likely to become ‘increasingly useful’ for police work. Armed with heat-seeking cameras, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles would hover hundreds of feet in the air, gathering intelligence and watching suspects.In theory, their advantages are clear. They are cheaper and quieter than conventional helicopters, can circle their target for hours without refuelling – and they don’t get bored on long surveillance missions. The plan to deploy ‘spy in the sky’ planes is outlined in the Home Office’s latest Science and Innovation Strategy. It says: ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are likely to be an increasingly useful tool for police in the future, potentially reducing the number of dangerous situations the police may have to enter and also providing evidence for prosecutions and support police operations in “real time”.Two years ago, Tony McNulty, then a Home Office minister, acknowledged that scientists were exploring the use of UAV technology for a ‘range of policing and security applications’. But the document cautions: ‘We need to investigate how such vehicles could be used, and their ability to provide high-quality evidence for convictions.’ There are also safety concerns surrounding the planes. Those used by the military are prone to crashes on takeoff and landing. Many have been lost over battlefields.

A trial by Merseyside police, of £30,000 ( not inc training costs)  remote-controlled miniature helicopters with still, video or infra-red cameras, highlighted more mundane problems related to battery life and the effects of bad weather on flights. Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: ‘I think a lot of people would be concerned at the Home Office looking to use technology more generally associated with the tribal borders of Pakistan and the fight against terror over British towns to watch the British public. The flying robo-constable is also “almost silent” in use, and “allows entirely covert operation”.The distributor spokesman said the aircraft are “military derived…obviously I can’t talk too much about that particular use…they are essentially reconnaissance tools.” Since the microdrone isn’t listed among those used by the regular military, this might indicate that the British special forces have taken an interest in the diminutive stealth-chopper, perhaps in a counter-terrorism role.

This would fit in with the Merseyside police reported plans to test it in firearms operations, as well as for more mundane tasks such as monitoring traffic congestion and crowds. So the CCTV revolution continues unabated. Liverpool has gone from Jamie Bulger ( CCTV abduction)  to aerial surveillance and still big brother and the mother of big brother uses money that  could be better spent elsewhere.

Still, as with all things wireless there are workarounds and if you have to  find one lying on the concrete in Bootle its sure to fetch a nice price on Ebay.

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