Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sombrero Sales Set To Soar In UK

I am a bit late on this, but seeing as I did not spot it mentioned in any of my weekend catch up blogosphere reading I thought it merited a mention today.

According to the Guardian a consortium of Government agencies are in negotiations with BAE systems to purchase and implement a national strategy for the use of wartime drones for deployment at home in the UK. The plans seen by the Guardian, released under a FoI request are being planned for the “routine monitoring” of motorists, protests, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers.

The Guardian also reveals that the plan is to have the drones in place for surveillance activities by the 2012 London Olympics. The costs of the scheme being spread across several agencies and the police, but will be offset from with the drones being rented from time to time by private contractors and with the Police exploring the potential for selling on collected data.

The prototype will be ready for testing this year. Drones are designed to take off and land on their own and can stay airborne all day and are virtually invisible because of their small size from the ground. It represents a new phase in the intrusion of the state in the lives of citizens that from such a great height such a wide area can be surveyed by a single drone. The surveillance equipment includes high definition cameras, radar, and cross spectrum sensors. The cameras feed back in real time to control rooms where the drones can be redirected if agents feel they wish to check something out that has appeared in the data.

The drones have been used in Afghanistan since the invasion in 2001, and have been a key tool in tracking down suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda from the sky in the exceptionally rough terrain. They have also been linked to high numbers of civilian deaths. The drones will inevitably be viewed as a cheaper alternative to police surveillance helicopters and the socialist mantra of if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear will surely be dusted off to be rammed down our throats all over again.

And yet in the past 12 months thanks to section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 the police can basically confiscate cameras at their will - if you are believed to have photographed a current or former member of the police or security services your actions are deemed as potentially beneficial to terrorists and as such the state deems it necessary to stop you and fine you. They take away our rights one at a time and in doing so ramp up the control of the state yet further. Yet again I say to you, did you vote to give consent to the use of potentially deadly drones to watch over us? Were we consulted? Do we think the Government cares for our concerns? No, No, No. We were taught in school that should anyone be in a position to visit one of the then Soviet Bloc countries, we would probably have any cameras and video equipment confiscated on entry on the grounds that these were deeply controlling places that did not like to be monitored themselves. Now I look at where we are today and it is such a shame that we can’t even heed our own lessons form just ten or fifteen years ago.  In the same way that teenagers with too much time on their hands have turned to the hoodie, will Britain more broadly feel the need to turn the the sombraro to avoid being constantly monitored from the sky?

Drone surveillance from the air will do nothing to reduce crime and will be as hit and miss as CCTV when it comes to the quality and admissibility of evidence produced. It is an expensive exercise being carried out without concern to a basic liberty currently withheld from us. At any moment when in your home or garden we are not exempt from the worst assumptions of the Government and not entitled to privacy, anywhere. As with Surveillance and speed cameras persistent offenders will quickly find a way to dodge and avoid being monitored and caught. It will of course be the case that these drones will be there to randomly catch out people and will not be much or any use towards replacing real policing and detective work which targets real criminals and builds strong a strong prosecution against serious criminals. The government feels it is its duty to monitor all of us, all of the time and everywhere we go. And of course, this will be sold to us as necessary for our own protection and safety.

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