Police: drones used for harassment and voyeurism
The Metropolitan Police say it is increasingly concerned about drones being used to harass or invade the privacy of members of the public.
Giving evidence to a House of Lords Committee on the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), Chief inspector Nick Aldworth of the Metropolitan Police said the technology was “undoubtedly” being used for criminal activity.
“We are looking at the emergence of this technology, which we believe undoubtedly creates opportunities for negligent, reckless or malicious use,” he told the committee.
Aldworth was particularly concerned with the use of drones for voyeurism. “Is it conceivable we’ll have these things, particularly the ones with cameras, hovering outside people’s bedrooms for whatever nefarious reason? I Can definitely tell you this technology has been used around London and elsewhere in the UK.”
The chief inspector, who is part of a police working group on the use of drones, said pursuing prosecutions against drone pilots was difficult, both because current legislation was written before the emergence of drones, and because it’s difficult to trace offenders.
Aldworth said the police could pursue prosecutions under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act in cases of voyeurism, but admitted the police were having to “shoehorn legislation to fit emerging challenges”.
Apprehending offenders remains the greater challenge. “When material appears on the internet, it can’t necessarily be attributed to the pilot, the person flying machine,” he said. “They are the person committing the offence, not the person who posted the footage on the internet.”
“Unless we can get there, there and then, and identify the pilot… subsequent intervention becomes far more challenging.”
The only prosecutions for the use of drones to date have been pursued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for breaches of the UK Air Navigation Order, which concern flying drones over restricted air spaces.
Chief inspector Aldworth raised the possibility of drone pilots being forced to register their devices, but admitted it would be difficult to enforce, not least because drones can be assembled from kits. “There would be many issues for linking people to aircraft,” he said.