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Police Use of Surveillance Drones

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Police Use of Surveillance Drones


The use of drones equipped with thermal cameras and/or optical zoom enables police officers and other law enforcement agencies to observe unfolding crime scenes at a safer distance and more accurately. A deployable camera drone provides officials with a better advantage during chaotic situations, especially where deploying ground force is too risky. Aerial vantage points enable post-accident scenes to be reconstructed and fully documented to help comprehend the timeline of events that happened during the incident. This paper will look at various research articles, publications, and books that address the issue of drone surveillance being used by the police and other law enforcement agencies.

Annotated bibliographies on police use of surveillance drones

West, J. P., & Bowman, J. S. (2016). The domestic use of drones: An ethical analysis of surveillance issues. Public Administration Review76(4), 649-659.

This article is written by Jonathan P. West and James Bowman and discusses the ethical analysis of issues surrounding drone surveillance. According to the authors, surveillance using drones can be perceived either as an impartial, justifiable practice that serves everyone’s interest or as a cruel method serving the interests of some individuals at the cost of others. The analysis carried by the authors is an attempt to look at the moral problems and prospects in the use of drones by inquiring whether surveilling civilians and the public at large is ethical. So as to tackle this question, the authors use modern behavioral and classical philosophical approaches to ethics. The inquiring starts with the assessment of the problem, followed by the progression and its current status. After discussing the technique used in the analysis, the article examines the arguments for and against surveillance domestically. The different use of drones may achieve a lot in the interest of the public while also creating critical problems. The conclusion of this article discusses the legislation provisions, regulatory criteria for drones, and accountability standards.

Engberts, B., & Gillissen, E. (2016). Policing from above: Drone use by the police. In The future of drone use (pp. 93-113). TMC Asser Press, The Hague.

This is a chapter in the book “The future of drone use” written by Bart Custers. The authors of the chapter are Bart Engberts and Edo Gillisen, who discuss the policing needed for drone use by the police. According to the authors, police work entails law enforcement, rendering assistance, and maintaining public order, and an important technique for accomplishing these duties is observation and surveillance. Drones equipped with replaceable cargo are the next technological advances that would aid police officers and other law enforcement agencies in several ways that were not possible previously. Observation through drones equipped with cameras is essential though not an exclusive focus of attention. This chapter has an exploratory viewpoint: in situations whereby an individual is not bounded by legal means, which practical applications would drone have for law enforcement agencies now and in the future. Therefore, this chapter centers on the various ways in which aerial surveillance may aid police value.

Finn, R. L., & Wright, D. (2012). Unmanned aircraft systems: Surveillance, ethics and privacy in civil applications. Computer Law & Security Review28(2), 184-194.

This article, written by Rachel L. Finn and David Wright, examines how the use of drones, also known as “unmanned aircraft systems” for surveillance on civilians, affects their privacy and other liberties. The paper argues that in spite of the diversity of these systems, these drones usually target the poor, anti-government protesters, and the people of color. The paper also discusses how the current legislation concerning privacy in the US, the European Union, and the UK might apply to these drones. The authors find that the current regulatory methods do not tackle privacy and civilian liberties issues adequately since surveillance drones are complicated systems that combine a broad range of capabilities and technologies. The paper argues for the incorporation of legislated, top-down needs, and bottom-up assessments to address civil liberties and privacy. Comparing this article to the one of Jonathan P. West and James Bowman, we realize that both of these articles look at the ethics behind drone surveillance in civilians and the policies behind it.

Sandvik, K. B. (2016). The political and moral economies of dual technology transfers: Arming police drones. In Drones and Unmanned Aerial Systems (pp. 45-66). Springer, Cham.

This chapter, written by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, argues that the transfer of drone technology used by the military to civilian uses is a complex matter than what is envision while addressing militarization policies. Because of legitimacy issues coming from surveillance drones, the drone industry is participating in mobilizing the economy with the objective of changing the existing moral economy. By moral economy, the author refers to the environment in which cultural transactions, social expectations and emotional investments contribute to a shared understanding of the participants in the economy. One of the results of these efforts is the unfolding of the drone public order that aims an encompassing both law enforcement and firefighting. Specifically, the chapter claims that arming law enforcement officers with drones should be a slow process with thoughts rather than a quick political decision or technological breakthrough.


Surveillance drones have proved to be effective in reducing crime rates and intervening on behalf of police in situations that are dangerous. However, in recent years there have been efforts to drop massive surveillance because of the privacy issues that they possess. Therefore, the need for privacy law has been spearheaded by lawmakers to ensure that rules are kept in place to limit the use of aerial surveillance on people’s lives without their consent. Reasonable limits on the use of surveillance drones by the police and other law enforcement agencies are excellent ways to start setting limits on all kinds of aerial surveillance as well as a major step in addressing civil liberties issues.



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