British police forces are making plans to deploy surveillance drones in UK airspace, the Guardian reports. Kent Police is leading the project; four other police forces have signed up. The drones look to be (relatively) cheap and simple machines that are battlespace tested: a manufacturer – BAE Systems – has evaluated its candidate drone (HERTI) in Afghanistan. The Guardian says that only CAA licensing now stands in the way of domestic deployment.
A news piece like this has an aspect of dark comedy. Many people have worried for a while that UK policing has become militarised; hereâ€™s a story that’s confirmatory to an absurd degree. Whatâ€™s next? Precision targetting of Harehills with JDAMs? Donâ€™t be ridiculous …
You’d think there might be some legitimate role for surveillance drones in UK policing. After all, helicopter surveillance and CCTV are both legitimate, and drones constitute the intersection of those methods. Nonetheless, intuition tells you that something is horribly wrong here. But what is it thatâ€™s wrong?
The Guardianâ€™s story – and they may be getting over-excited, but I tend to think not – says that Kent Police started out by claiming that the drones were to be used to monitor shipping and illegal immigrants. You might think that at least the shipping part of that would be OK; seas and shipping being what they are. But it turns out that these claims were just spin on the part of Kent Police; they always had a wider role in mind. Documents disclosed to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act suggest Kent Police would also like to use drones to monitor â€œantisocial drivingâ€ and â€œevent securityâ€, and also to conduct â€œcovert urban surveillanceâ€. Of course, this last could cover just about anything. And this, I think, points to the problem; itâ€™s a problem of proportionality. Someone, somewhere, has lost touch with the relative seriousness of things. Not only that, theyâ€™ve lost touch with what constitutes a safe environment for policing. Is the view from their doorstep just a blur of hurt and evil doing, or what? It doesn’t take much discrimination to be able to tell that â€œtheft from cash machinesâ€ won’t justify the same sort of efforts at risk reduction as attempting to interdict bomb plotters in a â€˜failed stateâ€™. In certain parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, itâ€™s almost impossible for someone in uniform to move around safely. Britain is not like that at all, and youâ€™re only going to infuriate and alienate British people by seriously suggesting that it is. So what do Kent Police and the other collaborating police forces think theyâ€™re doing making plans to hide in a bunker and send out Predators?