Guardian reports police in the UK have contracted arms manufacturer BAE Systems to adapt military-style unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to spy on civilians. The spy drones could be used for civilian surveillance in the UK as early as 2012, the police plans to use them for routine monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves, and waste dumping.
The BAE drones stay airborne for up to 15 hours and reach heights of 20,000ft, making them invisible from the ground. More info over here.
They reveal the partnership intends to begin using the drones in time for the 2012 Olympics. They also indicate that police claims that the technology will be used for maritime surveillance fall well short of their intended use – which could span a range of police activity – and that officers have talked about selling the surveillance data to private companies. A prototype drone equipped with high-powered cameras and sensors is set to take to the skies for test flights later this year.
The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates UK airspace, has been told by BAE and Kent police that civilian UAVs would "greatly extend" the government's surveillance capacity and "revolutionise policing". The CAA is currently reluctant to license UAVs in normal airspace because of the risk of collisions with other aircraft, but adequate "sense and avoid" systems for drones are only a few years away.