Update: Drones Could Be Used for General Surveillance in UK; Police Chiefs Adopt Drone Code of Conduct
To recap: In the last year, there has been increasing focus on the issue of domestic use of aerial drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAVs”) to conduct surveillance. Several months ago, Congress approved the FAA reauthorization bill, which includes a provision to integrate the use of aerial surveillance by drones in the United States by 2015. Read a previous post for more on the privacy and civil liberty questions, as well as deadlines for domestic use of drones. Also, read these previous news articles on the issue, from: the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today. In July, drone makers sought to answer concerns by releasing voluntary guidelines, but privacy questions remain. Also, there are security questions, as well, as a recent drone “hijacking” proves. First, the voluntary code of conduct, which is not legally binding on the companies that agree to abide by the guidelines. The code states, “We will respect the privacy of individuals.” There are no details on how individuals’ privacy will be respected.
Now, the Telegraph reports that UK police are discussing the use of aerial drones to conduct general surveillance of British citizens, which raises privacy and civil liberties questions. Also, the Washington Times reports that the International Association of Chiefs of Police has adopted a code of conduct (pdf) for the use of drones in the United States for surveillance of the public. However, although the document has statements such as “Unauthorized use of a UA will result in strict accountability,” there is no information about what such accountability means. I hope that law enforcement does follow this guideline (note that it’s not a requirement): “Where there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the UA will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing and if the UA will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy, the agency will secure a search warrant prior to conducting the flight.”
“Police drones could be used to monitor public from sky,” Telegraph (UK)
Unmanned drones, similar to those used in Afghanistan, could be used by police to free up officers for other duties, it was reported.
The airborne cameras, known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) may be used over cities or big events like Glastonbury, according to a National Police Air Service director.
Superintendent Richard Watson suggested they could have been deployed during the Olympic Games but have not yet proved to be cost-effective for widespread use. […]
In a presentation to the defence industry, reported by the Times, Supt Watson said: “I think we missed an opportunity with the Olympics. But there is an opportunity to do things differently. Until we start to ask the questions, we will always think the same way.
“I see unmanned systems as part of the future. There is an aircraft over London all the time — every day, giving images back. Why does it need to be a very expensive helicopter?
“Police chiefs adopt drone code of conduct,” Washington Times
The nation’s police chiefs have adopted a code of conduct for their use of drones, including letting any images captured by unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, be open to inspection by the public, and that the images not be stored unless they are evidence of a crime or part of an ongoing investigation.
The chiefs also said that if they plan to fly drones over an area where they are likely to spot criminal activity and where they would be intruding on someone’s “reasonable expectations of privacy,” they should seek to get a search warrant first.
In their three-page document, the chiefs said they are aware of privacy issues that have arisen with the prospect of an explosion in both governmental and private use of drone technology.
“Privacy concerns are an issue that must be dealt with effectively if a law enforcement agency expects the public to support the use of UAV by their police,” the chiefs said.
The “Recommended Guidelines for the use of Unmanned Aircraft” from the International Association of Chiefs of Police are available here (pdf).