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POLICE using drones to film people failing to practise social distancing and putting the footage online is “sinister” and “counter-productive,” Big Brother Watch said today.
The privacy and civil rights campaign group was responding to Derbyshire Police tweeting a video from Wednesday evening of people visiting the Peak District in defiance of government instructions that outdoor exercise should be taken close to home.
Police filming innocent members of the public with drones & putting it online is frankly sinister, let alone counter-productive.
The public should follow Govnt advice to protect themselves & others. Many people think they’re doing just that by taking walks in remote areas... https://t.co/DIC3aB8v3b
— Big Brother Watch (@BigBrotherWatch) March 26, 2020
Big Brother Watch said the public should be following the advice to protect themselves and others, but added that many people thought that they were doing so by going for walks in remote areas.
Director Silkie Carlo said: “Police spying on innocent members of the public with drones to shame them on social media is excessive. It’s not at all clear what police powers are being used to do this.
“It’s critical we protect public health and critical we protect basic democratic norms too. Arbitrary policing will not help the country to fight this pandemic.”
But Superintendent Steve Pont told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We wanted to reinforce the message of stay home and a number of people aren’t staying home, they’re finding excuses or loopholes, reasons not to stay home — and we just wanted to illustrate that this is the wrong thing to do.”
He said officers were “here to apply the law that the government makes,” adding: “The point is that the government legislation said if you go out to take exercise, you should make your time away from home as short as possible, it didn’t say as short as possible unless you want to go for a drive in the Peak District.”
Meanwhile, officers from Avon and Somerset Constabulary said they had been conducting random vehicle checks in Bristol to ensure only essential journeys are being made.
Police across England have had the power to enforce rules on staying at home and avoiding non-essential travel since 1pm on Thursday.
The National Police Chiefs Council confirmed today that some penalty notices had been issued, 24 hours after the rules came into force, and promised to provide more information on the incidents soon.
People who continue to ignore the rules will be breaking the law and could be arrested.
Offenders could be liable to an initial £60 fine, cut to £30 if paid within 14 days, and another £120 for a second offence, with the penalty doubling with each subsequent offence.
Officers can order members of the public to go home or leave an area, and have the power to disperse a group, using “reasonable force if necessary.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the powers were designed to “protect the public and keep people safe.”
The emergency regulations must be reviewed at least once every 21 days.
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