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The use of drones

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Over the Christmas period you may have been looking to the skies for Santa’s sleigh and you may have thought you saw it when in fact what you saw was an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – more commonly known as a drone. Since I took up post almost 3 years ago the use of drones has rocketed by both commercial users and individuals. Once again this year a drone was high on lots of Christmas present lists. 

As the use of drones becomes more commonplace it raises concerns about how they are used – you may have seen stories in the media about them being used to fly contraband into prisons or near misses with aeroplanes. So, how drones are used is of great interest to many not least Government who are currently consulting on them.

I’m interested in drones because most, if not all, are fitted with a surveillance camera. If a drone is flying overhead – say a few hundred feet – how does a member of the public know who is operating it, how do they know why it’s being used or what happens with the footage that it captures? If drones are operated by a relevant authority (police forces and local authorities) as set out in the Protection of Freedoms Act then they must comply with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice.

Complying with legislation

We are seeing police forces starting to use drones to look for missing persons, monitor crowds at large events and so on – and there is best practice in this area with Devon and Cornwall and Dorset police forces both achieving third party certification against the code. Elsewhere, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on drones as distributed my self assessment tool to all forces using the technology so they can see if they are complying with the code. 

Widespread use

So, I’m fairly confident that police forces are complying with the code but the use of drones is more widespread. Local authorities are using them to ensure new builds meet planning regulations, the fire service are using them to assess fires before sending in officers and photographers using them at weddings. 

The uses of this technology can certainly result in benefits for society. Whilst there are benefits we must ensure that they are operated within the law. Are all the various organisations and individuals using drones complying with all the relevant legislation? Are they aware of it? 

If not how can we make sure they are?

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