UK Police Using Military Drones

Yet another step in the militarization of the police:

The machines, which are flown by remote control or using pre-programmed GPS navigation systems, are silent and can be fitted with night-vision cameras.

The images they record are sent back to a police support vehicle or control room

As if there aren't enough cameras already in the UK.

Posted on May 24, 2007 at 7:01 AM • 62 Comments

Comments

AlexMay 24, 2007 7:44 AM

I share youre concerns as regards our 'surveillance society'. However, society is changing (actually over the past few decades has been changing) rapidly with many of the threats becoming more sophisticated. Would chance does the old bobby stand against that ? (unless of course you have an unlimited quantity of bobbies available)

NFGMay 24, 2007 7:47 AM

The problem with all of these surveilance devices is not that they watch us - with their machine or human eyes - but that the potential for misuse is so high.

Hard rules regarding the storage and use of the info gathered should be law, strictly and harshly enforced, and the rules should be open for all to see.

I don't fear the cameras, I fear the people behind them.

HulluMay 24, 2007 7:49 AM

To be honest, I haven't noticed the threats in the society to have changed much at all. It's still the same old robbery and mugging.

Surveillance definitely has changed.

AlexMay 24, 2007 7:59 AM

Tactics (robbery, mugging, fraud) used by criminals have not changed; that's right. Techniques have changed; even low level ordinary street robbers use mobile phones to warn each other of police presence. You see the bobby running for his phone boot at the corner ?

AlexMay 24, 2007 8:12 AM

In the end it comes down to the proportionality of the actual deployment of these drones: does the threat justify deployment of such intrusive surveillance? In 'Sneier' words: is the trade-off reasonable?

AnonymousMay 24, 2007 8:15 AM

"Now just wait until they equip them with weapons..."

Reminds me of the futuristic battle scenes in the Terminator films with the HKs (hunter killers)...

It's not just anorexic helicopters that are getting cameras in the UK. They're shoving them on traffic warden's bonces too:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6682607.stm

Carlo GrazianiMay 24, 2007 8:57 AM

Time to buy stock in companies that manufacture radio frequency jammers that can be tuned to the telemetry channel. They'll be doing land-office business.

neighborcatMay 24, 2007 9:21 AM

Deterrence value = 1/number of cameras

When cameras were rare, their deterrence value was high, as one would assume that there was a good chance the live video was being monitored by a human somewhere. When cameras are common, the D-value approaches zero, as one can assume the video will only be reviewed after the fact, after you are long gone.

The potential for misuse, however, is directly proportionate to number.

Stephen BMay 24, 2007 9:24 AM

This is inevitable... Tools always propagate between different "sectors and industries", and with the current Security Mentality we have - then this was always going to happen. Our Mobile/Cell-phones are tracked constantly: Turning it off is no defense, it can be turned back on by the network whenever they choose - or are told to do so; as long as it has coverage and power.

This has been used by UK Police forces since the mid-nineties, if not before - even though this seems like something that would belong to the Intelligence Services.

Propagation of this sort will always happen: Body Armour, SWAT assault gear, encrypted radio's, all derived from the military and cascaded into your local Police Force.

The only realistic answer is to put up with it, else you to move to some other more liberal country.

AndyMay 24, 2007 9:26 AM

Well, my parents tell me that the Police or Army (not sure which) used to fly up and down Northern Ireland at night with IR cameras, looking for disturbed earth (possible IRA arms caches). Not sure if that's true, and I don't see much point now, though.

Anyway, I'd point out that where I live there is regularly a police helicopter buzzing around somewhere over town. Perhaps this is a cheaper alternative to that? (That chopper much cost a fortune)

John DaviesMay 24, 2007 9:37 AM

A couple of years ago a colleague had his bicycle stolen from a mail line rail station from under the nose of a security camera. The police refused to look through the CCTV footage because they didn't have the time and because it was, in their eyes, not important. My colleague was refused permission to look through the tape himself because it would contravene various parts of the Data Protection Act.

It may appear that we have cameras everywhere but the reality is that they will only get used to solve major crimes. ( Or by the operators to snoop on your personal life naturally ... )

AnonymousMay 24, 2007 9:48 AM

How do you equate mobile surveillance platforms with 'militarization'? This is just a mini version of an expensive helicopter.

The fact that it was original used by the military is mute. Lots of civi stuff gets used in the military and lots of military stuff gets used in civi land. Just because a flying camera was former mil, doesn't mean that the police are getting more militant. Now if they were being armed with heavy weapons like tanks, LMGs, mortars, et al then that is a different story in todays current security situation, but they are not.

Also this isn't a full scale surveillance doomsday scenario where thousands of autonomous drones are flying all over London watching the populations every move. I didn't realize that the UK police force had invented cold-fusion energy to keep these things up in the air indefinitely and have the budget for the 1000s of support staff that would be required to service, operate and monitor all these new and scary mechanical overlords.

Seriously has any one ever sat down and looked at how much manpower it would take to monitor every citizen all the time? But of course if you need to monitor every citizen how can you be sure that the watchers are loyal to you, because after all they are citizens as well? So you need to monitor them, but then what about the watchers watchers? It just gets more and more ridiculous.

AnonymousMay 24, 2007 9:58 AM


@ Stephen B

..."Propagation of this sort will always happen: Body Armour, SWAT assault gear, encrypted radio's, all derived from the military and cascaded into your local Police Force."...

If the criminals are using more lethal weapons then naturally the police will want to protect their officers from harm in the course of their duties. Same for the SWAT teams, if you know the baddie is heavily armed, what are you going to send a street cop in with no vest and a pea shooter? I'd like to see how you would justify that situation to their family after they pull his bullet ridden corpse out of the house after.

Radio communication encryption is just a plain no brainier in and of itself. How is open interceptable communications a good thing for the police if the adversaries are listening in and know what is about to happen?

Tom WelshMay 24, 2007 10:00 AM

Ironically, surveillance cameras in public places in the UK are often accompanied by signs that say they are there "...to help prevent crime..."

I have never known a camera (or any other inert piece of junk) prevent any crime in the slightest degree. As someone else pointed out, the police quite often couldn't be bothered even to look at the tape even when they know it contains evidence of a crime.

Moreover, even streetwise 12-year-olds know enough to commit their crimes in camera shadow. (Or block the camera's view if necessary).

KurzlegMay 24, 2007 10:24 AM

@ Anonymous:

"The fact that it was original used by the military is mute."

I think you mean "moot".

"Also this isn't a full scale surveillance doomsday scenario where thousands of autonomous drones are flying all over London watching the populations every move."

Does the term "incremental" mean anything to you?

NostromoMay 24, 2007 10:52 AM

As John Davies posted, "...The police refused to look through the CCTV footage because they didn't have the time and because it was, in their eyes, not important."

Ordinary people accept surveillance because they think it will reduce crime against the person: robbery, theft, assault. But the authorities don't care about those crimes. The surveillance will be used against Government-defined "crimes": selling marijuana, associating with "bad" people, etc.

GregMay 24, 2007 11:12 AM

We get some security with emial becuase there is just so much of it.

I think they have soo many camears that it really dosn't matter. Nobody can look at all

AnonymousMay 24, 2007 11:33 AM

"UK Police"

There is no national police force in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Schneier may be right or he may be wrong, but he should at least check his facts before commenting.

AnonymousMay 24, 2007 12:01 PM

"There is no national police force in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

But no one said there was such a thing.

Why not evidence some reading comprehension before commenting?

AnonymousMay 24, 2007 12:08 PM

"How do you equate mobile surveillance platforms with 'militarization'? This is just a mini version of an expensive helicopter."

Don't be dense. UAV's were developed for military purposes, and until today, only used for military purpose. The article itself even states this. Did you read it?

I expect that both the base and mobile will be subject to trivial jamming. Do the police have the wiles to deal with the situation of one of their little babies tumbling out of the sky? The DF technology to localize the jammer? Probably not.

A seriously bad idea all round. But hey, kiss that military ass and maybe they'll leave you alone, eh?

Dom De VittoMay 24, 2007 12:26 PM

Bruce,
This is great news, but they've not gone so far as to add hellfire missiles.

This is a pity, as this is exactly what happened to the 'Predator' remote surveillance planes used by the US.

.....
Seriously though, as soon as one of these collides with a passenger plane and it all lands on a school, they'll examine the risks.

PaulMay 24, 2007 12:30 PM

This is yet more stupid security theater which does nothing to reduce crime, but makes it possible to monitor just about everyone. 1 camera to every 4 people in the UK now, isn't it? It's all getting a bit Orwellian, really.

More cameras => less police on the ground => longer response times to incidents, assuming they even bother to respond at all.

I'm reminded of an incident in my hometown a few years ago, where a young woman lost control of her vehicle and crashed through a storefront in the early hours of the morning.

She called the police to report the accident; they told her to back out of the store and drive round to the station to make a statement.

When she asked about sending an officer to guard the breached storefront, they told her they could see it on camera, and if anyone tried anything, they'd be able to respond.

I'm sure even the dumbest of criminals could loot a few items and scram well before the cops arrived on the scene. The smarter ones would know the camera was there and plan accordingly.

LDPMay 24, 2007 12:31 PM

From a purely mechanical and technical standpoint, they actually look kind of cool.

If you catch one, I wonder if you can keep it?

AdamMay 24, 2007 1:10 PM

"Seriously though, as soon as one of these collides with a passenger plane and it all lands on a school, they'll examine the risks."

They only fly at 500m according to the article, and presumably they won't be using them at airports, so I doubt a collision is likely.

ndgMay 24, 2007 1:13 PM

Didn't the LA PD demonstrate something like this last year? Only they did not get the correct flight permission and the FAA shut them down?

MeMay 24, 2007 1:30 PM

I like the idea of a flying camera to look down a girl's top. A shoe camera is best for looking up a skirt. Technology improves our lives.

FooDooHackedYouMay 24, 2007 1:47 PM

It'd be fun to fly one of these little critters anyway... Have a good weekend everyone :)

dittoMay 24, 2007 1:55 PM

@ LDP
I like your take on this. Cool technology. Yes. Salvage rights. Yes again.

Stefan WagnerMay 24, 2007 2:24 PM

At the cccc (Chaos Computer Club Congres) 2006 in Berlin, I watched a live presentation of this device - very entertaining and available as movie here:
http://dewy.fem.tu-ilmenau.de/CCC/23C3/video/23C3-1402-de-drones.m4v

If you don't understand german - the presenter told, you don't need an allowance (in germany) for such a device, because it's not heavy enough - serious airtraffic needs to be robust enough, to stand a collision, which is like hitting a duck.

Since this device is very silent, it might be useful for criminals too.

PeterMay 24, 2007 2:32 PM

Police and military are supposed to serve different ethical frameworks and priorities, and act in different contexts.
Now that the contexts have flowed into each other, the ethical restraints are flowing with them.

CProgrMay 24, 2007 2:48 PM

@ Stephen B.
> The only realistic answer is to put up with it, else
> you to move to some other more liberal country.

Frustratingly true, so long as most of the affected people simply don't object -- apparently the most common case in both the UK and the US. Unfortunately, "more liberal countr[ies]" (as opposed to merely backward) are increasingly hard to find; I have one in mind, but I'd be interested in suggestions...

jaredMay 24, 2007 3:17 PM

Mostly harmless, and then the batteries run out.

"Flight time: over 20 minutes" indeed.

I hope the manufacturer soaks a ton of money out of these department budgets, because that money could certainly go to something scarier.

Alan A.May 24, 2007 3:19 PM

If these became commonplace in my neighborhood, I might feel the desire to buy kites for the neighborhood kids.

AnonymousMay 24, 2007 3:24 PM

Imagine the fun of buzzing ione of these with an r/c model jet... wonder how it would deal with jetwash?

ARMMay 24, 2007 3:55 PM

I'm not sure that I would count this as an unwarranted "militarization" of the police. That seems to imply that military hardware is of-limits to the police as a matter of course. If the Army developed a new form of more effective or safer "non-lethal weapon," would we expect the police to turn up their noses at it?

When the police use military tactics and/or hardware as a shortcut, and/or when it's inappropriate (like using a squad automatic weapon on a bank robber's unarmored getaway car, when a few solid slugs would do the trick), then I think that there is more of a case.

bobMay 24, 2007 4:19 PM

@Alan A.

Also teach them how to make small grappling hooks from bent pieces of coat-hanger wire.

Sky-fishing could become a new sport.

n.oMay 24, 2007 4:40 PM

This is not only for police or military usage.

You can buy that thing ("MD4-200") for yourself - the manufacturer is a small German company:
http://www.microdrones.com/
The real fun will start when the prices go down for devices like that and people are actually going to use this for other stuff (think paparazzi). Maybe you'd want to counter-monitor the police ;)

Devices like that should get down to the 1000-2000$ range in the next years - commercially. You can build hobbyists versions of this for less today.

So what will happen then?

Darksat - Security GuruMay 24, 2007 4:59 PM

Considering everyone and his dog has a mobile phone with a camera nowdays this is totally pointless.
why not just get people to report crimes they see in real time using video phones, instead of wasting money on drones no one will be watching.
We have 20% of the worlds cameras and no one to watch them.
Big brother is an idiot.

pointfreeMay 24, 2007 5:00 PM

"The machine is 1m wide, weighs less than a bag of sugar, and can record images from a height of 500m."

Sugar is available in bags up to 50kg - don't go outside without a helmet.

In hindsight, Orwell truly was an optimist.

Mitch P.May 24, 2007 7:31 PM

Given the price and a flight duration measured in minutes rather than hours or days, I doubt that this device will be used for the kind of ubiquitous, oppressive surveillance that I most worry about. It simply won't be cost effective to have 100's of these things up and reporting back. This will be useful in a few situations where police need to have a set of eyes for a short time, say while actively pursuing somebody fleeing on foot or hiding in cluttered environment.

Could it be used to spy on people in their homes as seen in the movie "Blue Thunder"? Probably, but I suspect that police versions of this will be less of a threat than people with telephoto lenses.

Stefan WagnerMay 24, 2007 9:18 PM

Well - of course it's not useful, to monitor a gasstation, where you could put a fix camera.

It might be useful, where instead a helicopter would be used, but 20 minutes and 20 km/h is enought.
Of course you could use 3 devices, 2 of them recharging, while one in operation mode.

A mobile target like a demonstration, or probably aggressive soccerfans can be followed for a while.

Get an overview about an bigger accident in short time.

Observe things behind huge walls. Fly at night by GPS to cover yourself.

MegMay 25, 2007 2:43 AM

Well, tune your RF jammers!
The flight control seems to use standard material (35/40/41MHz) while the video system uses a 2.4GHz transmission.

PeterMay 25, 2007 2:56 AM

Another tool to keep the populace on edge. Maintain the fear. The sheep will obey the sheepdog, especially when there is a fake wolf howling in the background.

Bruce has in the past eluded to the use of all this post-9/11 security as a way of providing special privilges to the few while increasing the controls on the rest of use - law abiding or not. The corruption that goes with dictatorships is becoming more visible daily in the UK; in the past it had been largely hidden behind "old boy networks" and similar but now it's far more open.

Compare another reduction in privacy in this story with the MPs voting themselves an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act... Hypocracy ? Really ?

John DaviesMay 25, 2007 4:30 AM

Presumably if these things are on general sale then we can soon expect a new inner city spectator sport - police against drug gang drone dogfights.

lsMay 25, 2007 5:49 AM

this is a good solution that can be utilized for other means as well, at the end it’s all about the price, if the price will be competitive enough more countries will probably use it as well.

MikeMay 25, 2007 9:26 AM

Still ... this is in Mersyside, they should probably also need to fit hellfire missles too, to deal with all those scoucers!

Those saying another way to keep an edge on the polulace, maintain the fear. A work colleage lives in one of the worst areas of Liverpool. He never leaves the house, and talks of gunfire at night. He's quite glad of this.

another bruceMay 25, 2007 12:44 PM

if i can down five of these things with my own r/c aircraft, will that make me an ace?

AnonymousMay 29, 2007 2:30 PM

@Anonymous: "Seriously has any one ever sat down and looked at how much manpower it would take to monitor every citizen all the time?"

Two words: East Germany.

X the UnknownMay 29, 2007 2:30 PM

@Anonymous: "Seriously has any one ever sat down and looked at how much manpower it would take to monitor every citizen all the time?"

Two words: East Germany.

X the UnknownMay 29, 2007 2:45 PM

@Stefan Wagner: "Of course you could use 3 devices, 2 of them recharging, while one in operation mode."

Note, however, that it's 20 minutes TOTAL - your UMV still has to get to the scene from your base of operations, and presumably has to get back to the base as well (otherwise, it becomes a techno-parts prize for the first street-kid to get to it). I'd guess that the actual useful flight-time in such a relay-monitoring situation would more likely be 10 minutes or less, unless you based them every few blocks throughout the city.

Security Camera DudeJune 1, 2007 9:43 AM

The true way to monitor all the people is to allow for everyone to have access to the footage. Imagine all the retired persons out there and bored stay-at-home parents who would watch this instead of their soaps. This would be my idea of a workable sytem of "Big Brothers...and Sisters...and Mothers..."

Ross BrindleJune 25, 2007 9:08 AM

Reverse monitoring is a nice method of disrupting this.. eg insist on the lack of transparency in government and that we require cameras in government offices to alerty against potential criminal activities and terrorism within ... heh heh.. ill bet theyl love that one

Ross BrindleJune 25, 2007 9:08 AM

Reverse monitoring is a nice method of disrupting this.. eg insist on the lack of transparency in government and that we require cameras in government offices to alerty against potential criminal activities and terrorism within ... heh heh.. ill bet theyl love that one

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 11:21 PM

hi i see u all moaning about drones n cams...

i have a militry drone just sitting outside my house 24-7

they been filming and tracking me 24 hours aday for 3 years.. everything i do.. every were i go.. its like a circus !!! and in all reality all they are doin is makin more money off the people.. as in - hes a terrorist or hes a drug king pin... yer right i live on sick at home with me mum n dad so wtf .. 3 years of this shit.. planes drones undercover cars-gps trackers-rfid chips planes followin n trackin - breaking into cars to plant shit-breaking in house to plant shit-- are u all sniffing your own under pants or wat,, i have been in army years back and i never thought i would see the day when they would turn it on me!! so when u bitchin about all this !! stop n think - shit they been on shady for 3years 24-7 every 15 20 mins survalance drives or flys past ma crib!!!! not including the baseball sized globe that floats n looks like a star but its a goverment survalance unit!!!! lookin at me right now!! u think u tough - com try this shit for a week just 1 week-bet u cryin like a girl!! remeba wat the jews said wen the natzis came for all the other people-they dsaid its nothin 2 do with me- whenb theres no assholes left they will come for u n your family!! the people u forget the past are doomed to repeat it... one love mark

shadyApril 10, 2008 11:46 PM

hi,i see the police drone thing is bothering a few people and i would just like to inform you whats coming for you all next.ok this is what there are doin and have been doin for 3 years now.. they have a cam survalance unit thats the size of a small ball-this stays in the air 24-7 never slips-this watchs you from a distance and has gps so if they loose a visual the gps wont- 2 up to 5 planes- 4north south east n west witch are the size of small pasenger planes-remote controlled[same ones that do the chemtrails the big 1st] and the we have 2 small sesnas - all used at the same time 24 hours a day- tracking and following the public.i no what your thinking shadys crazy!! but in all onesty i dont think i could make it up if i wanted to. the big plnaes have ground penatrating radar so when they fly low over your houses its like having no roof on.. they see everything n i do mean everything.. they love building data on u.. were u go what u do who ya phonin what ya buyin .. its orwell book in full efect.. but beause its not on the news it no happin? yer right come up to see me shady n i can run u anywere in uk n we will have all air suport in area within 5 mins.. plus cars n bike ect.. i shit u not.. so i must be a teror king pin or smack inporter right ,,,, nope am homeless n unemployed... so if they will spend all this money on following me 24-7 every 12 to 30 mins air suport flys over or undercover cars drive past or i have the ball in the sky cam whats gona happen when its u?

FFMarch 5, 2009 8:31 PM

I knew this was coming. Police helicopters circling and flying over homes 5-10 times a day, sometimes more, was meant for only one thing and that was to get people annoyed. Problem reaction solution. Noise = problem, quiet drones = solution.

I'm on here because there was a plane or a drone, who knows, circling our area roughly every 5-10 minutes for about an hour or more like it was taking aerial photographs for Google or something only it is night time so no chance of that being an excuse not to get paranoid. I see all this as nothing more than fear escalation for the masses and intimidation for anyone who thinks outside the box. "Oh, I've been visiting anti-x website, maybe I tripped the subversive alarm at the data centre - maybe they're watching me".

What's next? I'll make a prediction that this is all heading towards armed UAV's that patrol the skies ready to intimidate, irritate, incapacitate (mentally or physically) and in extreme cases eliminate anyone that is a threat to the government or whatever governing body is in control whenever the technology is available (A.I artificial intelligence) to co-ordinate all of these silent sentinels who serve unseen masters.

You don't need science fiction when you're a pessimist in the 21st century. That's why the cinemas are filled with orks, witches and men with unkempt beards. The real magic isn't on the big screen, it's taking place right before our eyes as the grand delusion.

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