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Drones used by police to monitor political protests

New research has found that police have used unmanned drones to monitor political protests, including those held by the non-violent Black Lives Matter movement.

The campaign group Drone watch used Freedom of Information requests to ask police forces to detail their use of drones at protests from January to October 2020. They found that the Surrey, Cleveland, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire and West Midlands forces said they had used drones at BLM protests, with police also found to have used the technology last year at animal rights protests, Extinction Rebellion and anti-HS2 demonstrations.

Polling for Drone watch by Yonder claims to show public concern about drone use when they fly beyond where a human can see them. Of 2,000 people questioned, 60 per cent were worried about the effects on privacy and civil liberties, and 67 per cent said they were concerned about the safety implications.

Chris Cole of Drone watch said: “Police are adopting this new surveillance technology with little oversight or consent from the public. There seems to be little control over how the data is being gathered or stored with alarmingly worrying replies from the police indicating they do not understand what rights the public have in regard to accessing data.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. Despite serious public concern, the government is planning to liberalise airspace regulations to enable a whole raft of public agencies and private companies to operate drones freely in our airspace. Before that happens, it’s vital that there is a proper public debate about the limits of drone use and comprehensive privacy controls are put in place.”

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