Research has shown that British police have been using drones to monitor protests and rallies throughout 2020 and likely into the new year. Drone Watch was able to gather information on police usage of drones around the UK from January to October 2020.
The group Drone Watch asked various police forces around the country using freedom of information requests if they had used drones at protests during the time period.
The requests found that the Surrey, Cleveland, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, and West Midlands police had used drones at Black Lives Matter protests. The Gloucestershire police force even used drones during a lockdown protest.
The Devon and Cornwall and Avon and Somerset forces used drones at 15 events, from protests to disorder incidents. Neither force specified which events the drones were used at, however.
Drone Watch also surveyed 2,000 Brits to see what they thought of police drones. Sixty percent of them are concerned about the effect they will have on privacy, and 67% of them are worried about the safety issues that come with drones flying beyond visual line of sight.
Assistant chief constable Steve Barry shared:
Police use drones at protests to help inform policing tactics to keep everyone safe. Their use is well regulated and governed by the surveillance commissioner and information commissioner guidelines.
While drones being used by police in a specific way might not be illegal, we know from past events that they need to talk to the public about it. Holding meetings open to the public to voice their concerns and questions is the only way to get the people on board with police drones.
To many people, the news of these drones being used at public events is a big shock and will only make them perceive drones in a bad light. Getting ahead of this and informing the people that a drone will be used during an event is a much better way to do things.
Chris Cole from Drone Watch added:
Police are adopting this new surveillance technology with little oversight or consent from the public. There seems to be little control over how the data is being gathered or stored with alarmingly worrying replies from the police indicating they do not understand what rights the public has in regard to accessing data.
Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona