OPINION: Are drones the future of police surveillance?

By Nik Butler

Earlier this year Sussex Police were trialing the Aeron Skyranger system. A radio controlled quadcopter equipped with a high resolution camera which could transmit images to its ground based operator.

The drone was to be tested near Gatwick Airport for a few months. Whilst this was originally reported in March 2014 I have as yet not read a report detailing the experiences or operational value in the equipment.

With the recent skirmish of conversations surrounding the use of a manned helicopter during a recent arrest the question will no doubt be tabled. Why not something cheaper, why not something smaller, something easier to deploy, with less noise, and less pollution, and with the purchasing and running cost for less than your average police commissioner?

Surely spending a little under £50,000 is a larger step down from the yearly cost of the full sized aircraft, maintenance, crew, and fuel.

The quad-copter, drone, remotes are a new technological field and whilst it is in its infancy it is well supported by enthusiastic hobbyist and commercially invested operation alike.

It is creating waves in public awareness so much so that America has begun asking questions as to its validity in the hands of the public.

Fortunately, so far, our legislation has not crimped those opportunities within our own markets. Why not then encourage the police force to make use of more of these remote controlled cameras?

There are plenty of valid reasons which can be tabled in the discussion regarding equipping our police force with more tools to enable their reach and oversight. There may be further good reasons to argue for that which might equip other emergency or civil services with similar drones; aiding in their information gathering. Are we ready for an influx of additional cameras in our lives?

This time flying over back gardens and peering into windows in ways which larger aviation fueled machines cannot. How much more of our privacy are we willing to surrender in the interests of protection and enforcement?

There is a cost both financial and environmental in every launch of the Sussex Police Helicopter but with it comes the acceptance that you can observer and appreciate your civil services in operation. Many may be quick to criticise the spending of our police administration but we should be careful that in our haste to ease finances we do not pay for it with our privacy.

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