By Cara Sulieman
SCOTTISH police forces could soon be using unmanned spy planes to keep tabs on citizens in a bid to crack down on crime.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have already been trialled by Strathclyde Police who used one in rescue operations in rural Argyll.
And Scotland’s largest police force is keen to be at the forefront of the new technology, which is being looked at by all forces in the UK.
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has joined forces with their English counterpart to form the Unmanned Aerial Systems Steering Group, who meets regularly to discuss the use of the planes, and report to the Home Office.
“Cheaper and smaller”
But privacy groups are angry at the proposals, saying they breach human rights.
One senior police officer said: “On a daily basis these drones would help us deal with public order, surveillance and searching for missing persons or property.
“What makes them so attractive is they’re cheaper and smaller than helicopters.”
There are two types of the military designed UAVs which are being looked at by police.
The first is a remote-controlled helicopter with CCTV cameras and infrared imaging built in.
“Most watched nation”
Flying up to 300 feet at 30mph, they are being trialled by Merseyside Police.
But it is the second type which is causing the most concern among privacy groups – flying at 20,000 feet it is invisible to the human eye.
Kent Police are leading the consortium put together to look at the use of the spy planes, which can take off and land on their own and spend up to 15 hours in the air.
Arms manufacturer BAE Systems is adapting the planes – currently used by the Army in Afghanistan – for the police forces to trial.
Big Brother Watch, a group which campaigns against the invasion of privacy, is against the new planes.
Campaign director Dylan Sharpe said: “We’re already the most watched nation in the world so why do we have to have more surveillance?
“Spy drones that are invisible to the man on the street are in breach of the Data Protection Act.”
“Policing for the future”
And Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Green Party said: “Some people in the Home Office won’t be happy until they have everyone under 24-hour-a-day surveillance and every step towards that should be resisted.”
A spokesman for ACPOS said: “The Association of Chief Police Officers Unmanned Aerial Systems Steering Group is considering the use of such systems for policing in the future and ACPOS is represented on this group.
“The Steering Group was set up to consider the implications for policing of such technology.
“The group meets three times a year and consists of representatives from police forces, the Civil Aviation Authority and other enforcement agencies.”
A spokesman for Civil Aviation Authority said that police would need special permission to fly the drones.
He said: “We have specific guidelines that require permission to fly these types of vehicles.
“Although no police force is currently flying these UAVs we perceive there will an increase in interest in the future.”
A report by Strathclyde Police said: “It is recommended Strathclyde Police continue at the forefront of development in this field and further evaluate the capabilities of the UAV under the management of Operational Support Division”