UK police to deploy military UAV drones, snoop more effectively

Paul Raven @ 28-01-2010

US Air Force UAV droneFuturismic readers resident outside the UK may wonder why exactly it is that I keep battering on about the omnipresent surveillance systems that are saturating this silly little island. After all, if I’m not doing anything wrong, I should have nothing to fear, right?

Well, if believing that helps you sleep at night, then you carry on. In the meantime, I hope you’ll not object to me becoming steadily more nervous about such systems being put into the hands of a clueless, corrupt bureaucracy of a government. Am I overstating the case here? I don’t know – but how would you feel if you heard your police force were investing in the same sort of UAV surveillance drones that have proven so popular with the “peacekeeping” forces currently stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Better yet, wait until you hear exactly what they want them for:

… for the ­”routine” monitoring of antisocial motorists, ­protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.

I suppose we should at least be grateful that the ubiquitous yet hollow catch-all of “terrorism” doesn’t turn up in that list. But there’s more:

… the partnership intends to begin using the drones in time for the 2012 Olympics. They also indicate that police claims that the technology will be used for maritime surveillance fall well short of their intended use – which could span a range of police activity – and that officers have talked about selling the surveillance data to private companies. A prototype drone equipped with high-powered cameras and sensors is set to take to the skies for test flights later this year.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates UK airspace, has been told by BAE and Kent police that civilian UAVs would “greatly extend” the government’s surveillance capacity and “revolutionise policing”. The CAA is currently reluctant to license UAVs in normal airspace because of the risk of collisions with other aircraft, but adequate “sense and avoid” systems for drones are only a few years away.

I try very hard to keep Futurismic free of my soap-boxing these days, and I hope you’ll accept my apologies if this post has bored, baffled or offended you. But Futurismic‘s also the biggest soap-box I have access to, and I honestly believe this sort of creeping totalitarianism must be called out in public at every available opportunity. Governments that profess to be democracies should remember that respect is a two-way street. [image by ebrkut]

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7 Responses to “UK police to deploy military UAV drones, snoop more effectively”

  1. Chad says:

    Hopefully, the U.K. example saves the U.S. from making the same mistakes.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    In the States, the sheer size of the country (and the amount of open space to patrol) would be a serious obstacle to any attempts at true blanket surveillance… that said, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of someone trying it anyway.

  3. SMD says:

    Oh, no, I’m not at all concerned about why you keep bringing this topic up. I was livid when I found out President Shrub had wiretapped Americans, so I fully understand the anger (or sheer shock) at seeing things like this being done in your own country. It’s kind of like when Adama said in the first season of Battlestar Galactica: the police are supposed to protect the people from enemies of the people; the military is supposed to protect against the enemies of the state. When the military becomes both, the people tend to become the enemies. Granted, the analogy isn’t perfectly applicable, but it’s still something that scares me in the U.S., and certainly should scare you or anyone elsewhere. Whenever you roll back freedom, even if it’s because you’re scared, it’s taking a step back. It’s easier to give up freedom than to get it back.

    And my rant is now over.

  4. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Keep it up, Paul. I find the British surveillance state pretty shocking. I like to think you all are more civilized than us folks in the States, but the inroads on your civil liberties is a wake up call. And I’ve found in watching British mystery shows that the reliance on ubiquitous cameras is so taken for granted that it’s incorporated into the most ordinary shows.

  5. Patrick H says:

    I don’t think surveillance is automatically totalitarian. Citizen surveillance, after all, revealed the circumstances of Ian Tomlinson’s death, and has done a lot to reveal human rights abuses in Iran, eg.

    It’s really more a matter of who controls the information. If these things streamed their coverage to the internet so that anyone could see it, then there’d be no problem. IMO, all state and quasi-state surveillance ought to be publicly available – we’ve paid for it, after all!

  6. Paul Raven says:

    You’re coming close to highlighting the difference between surveillance and sousveillance there, Patrick; the latter is something I approve of thoroughly. Although I don’t agree with all of it, David Brin’s Transparent Society has been very influential on my attitudes to such matters.

  7. Patrick H says:

    I’m familiar with the term, but I don’t think they are different (I’m a the sort of grumpy old git that sees it as a neologism to stand in for “surveillance I approve of”).

    I think David Brin’s right, but I’d gotten there myself before hand (perhaps via Rudy Rucker’s Postsingular, which has a few riffs on the issue). Furthermore, I think pervavsive sous/surveillance looks pretty much a forgone conclusion in the near future – too late to stop it now, we’re heading for the post-dignity culture!

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