When we think of drones being used by the police, it’s easy to fret about the potential for Orwellian aerial surveillance in our towns and cities.
“A great eye, lidless, wreathed in flame,” hovering over Rotherham, perhaps – to borrow the apocalyptic parlance of Tolkien.
However, before we get all dramatic about drones with a gaze that can pierce “cloud, shadow, earth and flesh,” a number of police forces up and down the UK are using UAVs out of a desire to do good.
Lincolnshire Police’s drone unit says its thermal search and rescue craft may have saved a man’s life after he was found in a 6ft deep ditch in the middle of a deathly cold night.
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The driver was suffering from hypothermia – and 160 metres from his crashed car when the UAV located his position.
You can see the moment, which occurred at 2:20am, in the tweet below.
The force used a DJI Inspire 1 v2 drone combined with a 30Hz XT Thermal camera.
“We have two drones and specially trained officers who operate the kit in addition to their roles as front line response constables,” the drone division wrote on Twitter. “We are working towards 24/7 coverage which we hope to achieve in April 2018.”
The man was discharged from hospital with minor injuries, the force said.
Protection vs Privacy?
The use of drones by police forces has become more widespread across the UK in recent years.
Devon and Cornwall was the first force to have its own 24/7 drone unit, which has been useful in searching vast coastlines for missing people. It’s also far more cost-effective than putting a helicopter in the sky.
They’re also being used as a cost-saving measure in photographing fatal road traffic collisions.
However, privacy advocates have expressed concern about the potential for clandestine surveillance.
“There’s a boundary of a public place and where your private personal space is. If that boundary becomes illusionary…” says Millie Graham Wood, a legal officer at advocacy group Privacy International told BT.com last year.
“Because it’s classed as public surveillance, they say people should be aware of it. That was the concept with CCTV, but it seems to have been broadened to include surveillance cameras. The idea that you would be aware of a drone that’s so high above you is not realistic.
“Also, it’s another thing they’re doing without properly consulting the public, without properly asking whether this is the best use of resources. What are they doing with the footage and how they’re going to store it?”
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