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POLICE have used remote-controlled aircraft to monitor political protests, UK Drone Watch said today.
The group submitted freedom of information (FoI) requests to all regional police forces last November.
A number of forces either refused to answer or denied using their drones in this way, but 10 admitted using them to monitor public protests.
All police forces refused to disclose details of their covert use of drones.
Protests monitored ranged from gatherings of far-right groups in Nottingham to an animal rights demonstration in Salisbury and Extinction Rebellion and HS2 protest marches in Warwickshire.
Black Lives Matter protests were monitored most frequently, with the Surrey, Cleveland, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire and West Midlands forces revealing that they had used drones during last year’s demonstrations.
The Devon & Cornwall and Avon & Somerset forces also reported monitoring political protests with their drones but refused to divulge specific details.
Campaigner Jonathan Cole said: “It’s extremely worrying that a number of police forces feel that it is now legitimate to use drones to monitor and film perfectly legal public protests.”
UK Drone Watch said that the revelations of police drones use to monitor and film political protests were likely to increase public concerns.
Campaign co-ordinator Tim Street said: “Despite clear public concern about the privacy and safety implications of drone use in the UK, the government is refusing to have an open and inclusive public debate on the expansion of the use of these systems.
“It has flatly rejected parliamentarians’ calls for increased public engagement on the issue, seemingly preferring to listen only to the drone lobby and their inflated promises of economic benefit.
“While there may well be some public benefit to expanding drone use in the UK, we have to ensure that privacy protections are updated to cope with this powerful and emerging technology, particular as it is likely to be combined with facial-recognition software and artificial intelligence.”
UK Drone Watch is calling on the government to clearly set out its plans to expand drone use in Britain in order to enable a full and proper public consultation.
The Home Office was approached for comment.
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