Two Labor peers demanded further parliamentary scrutiny of police plans to use drone-mounted surveillance cameras after it emerged the technology could be deployed by forces across England and the Country of Wales.
Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of civil rights group Liberty, introduced an amendment to the police bill that would require the Home Secretary to approve the use of new “weapons, surveillance equipment or technology investigation “. The amendment was to be discussed on Wednesday evening.
It comes after the Guardian reported that police were looking for drone-mounted cameras capable of shooting high-quality live footage from a distance of 1,500 feet (457 meters), raising civil liberties concerns.
Former Labor Minister Peter Hain, who supports the amendment, said he wanted to ensure that Parliament could control the use of the technology, rather than leaving it “a matter to the sole discretion of the police. “.
He expressed concerns about the role of private companies providing the technology and warned that high-powered drones could be used to target legitimate protesters.
The Home Office said the use of drone-mounted cameras could enable 46 police forces in England and Wales to reduce noise and carbon emissions created by helicopters carrying out surveillance during the operations.
Lord Hain said that this goal “should not be a reason to avoid the need for proper accountability and control”. He pointed to successive revelations of an investigation into the behavior of undercover police officers as a reason to be wary of allowing forces to acquire and use surveillance technology without ministerial control.
“Without accountability, how do we know that drone surveillance is not being targeted for illegitimate ends like undercover police surely were? “
The National Police Air Service (NPAS), which provides air support to 46 police forces, has asked private companies for information on systems that provide both “airborne imagery” and “air-to-ground communication”.
The call, on a government outsourcing website, states: “The imaging systems are intended for use on BVLOS remotely piloted aircraft systems (beyond line of sight): ‘drones.’ . “
The NPAS told potential bidders that the systems should be able to transmit high quality live images, even in low light conditions, using “electro-optical” or “infrared” systems. He said it would allow officers to choose details such as “facial features,” as well as clothing and vehicle license plates, from a distance of between 500 feet and 1,500 feet.