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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Another blow to the surveillance state

Today's Independent reports on a legal opinion, submitted to the Home Office, which concludes that the use of surveillance drones by the British government is probably illegal.

The paper explains that several government departments and police forces have increasingly used remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), however the legal guidance warns it is “probably unlawful” for security services to “retain or use surveillance data” captured by drones under current laws:

The release of the legal guidance comes as an influential House of Lords prepares to quiz government officials on drone use on Monday. The House of Lords EU Sub-Committee will question officials from the Department of Transport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills over drone policy, including national security concerns.

However civil liberties and opposition MPs are demanding a fuller enquiry into drone use. Rachel Robinson, a policy officer for Liberty, said “As the use of spy drones by the state and private sector grows, so too do the concerns about the lawfulness of this intrusive technology. We need to know who is spying on us and why and where our right to privacy comes into the equation. The industry grew up in the shadows but can no longer be kept in the dark.”

The guidance, from leading public law barrister Jemima Stratford QC, was commission by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones. It warns the use of drones for surveillance is unlawful and constitutes a “disproportionate interference” with the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The paper continues that the legal guidance states that while drone use is covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)this act was not designed for this purpose. It warns, “We consider, on balance, that is a disproportionate interference with an individual's right to privacy for the security services (or any other government department) to retain and use surveillance data, without any safeguards concerning its use, storage or destruction.

The question now is whether the UK Government will pay any attention or whether it will take a court case to make them do so.
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