For citizens of the UK, being watched is just a way of life. Britain alone has one CCTV camera for every 10 people. What do you do when you have all the cameras but you want more? Make those things fly, of course.
Police in Devon and Cornwall are spearheading a new unit that will informally be known as the “flying squad”. Officials are currently seeking a manager to head up the program. It will consist of a six-month test run before a decision is made on whether or not to keep it as a permanent part of the force. Inspector Andy Hamilton had this to say when the idea was first floated last year:
Using a drone to capture still or video images on difficult terrain and hard to reach areas such as cliffs, woodland or the moors to find a missing person, combat wildlife crime or even during a firearm incident, will allow officers to gain vital information, quickly and safely and allow us to respond effectively at the scene.
The D&C Police patrol more geographic area than any other department in England, so it’s possible that this drone unit could actually make sense for them. And the idea of giving drones the duties that are usually handled by helicopters is very reasonable. But the out-of-control state of surveillance in the UK certainly makes one believe that authorities don’t know how to approach it in any reasonable manner.
Typically, police officers jump at the chance to get their hands on any and every new toy they can. But in this case, some are worried that this is just a first step in the eventual cutting of jobs. Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry tells The Daily Mail, “There may be an opportunity at some point in the future to rationalise what we need our cops to do because we find drones can do it more effectively.” But he warned, “I think it’s a brave senior officer who will make that step that is going to cut cops because they have got drones.”
Other departments are considering jumping into the drone enforcement future as well. The D&C tests will play a major part in that decision. Barry considers it an inevitability, “I would not be at all surprised if other forces follow in due course — the question is not whether they will, it’s when.”
In 2015, the UK’s surveillance commissioner, Tony Porter, expressed his concerns about the public’s willingness to be surveilled. “When people say ‘the public love CCTV’, do they really know what it does and its capability?” he asked. “Do they know with advancing technology, and algorithms, it starts to predict behaviour?” Back then, the approaching use of drones bothered him, “Every time a drone is operating with a surveillance camera attached to it, then the risk of a privacy impact in a public space rises exponentially.”