Surveillance drones to monitor holiday period

Privacy experts have hit out at reports that Victorian Police plan to operate camera surveillance drones on public beaches over the upcoming holiday period.

This announcement follows concerns over increases in drone-related surveillance in public spaces across Australia, including at sporting events, CBD locations, beaches and more.

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Enjoy yourself, citizen. We’re not watching. Photo: DRW

Privacy experts have hit out at reports that Victorian Police plan to operate camera surveillance drones on public beaches over the upcoming holiday period.

This announcement follows concerns over increases in drone-related surveillance in public spaces across Australia, including at sporting events, CBD locations, beaches and more.

NO PRIVACY THIS SUMMER

It has been revealed Victoria Police are planning to use surveillance drones to monitor Melbourne crowd across the country this summer, in a move that has come under criticism.

“Whilst you may not necessarily see the drone we will be watching your behaviour and we can watch personal watercraft, people on the beaches,” Police Commander Libby Murphy said.

Reports suggest the use of ariel surveillance to ‘stamp down on violence’ will be a significant part of this year’s operation, including the use of technology to monitor individuals:

“There will be a focus on using real-time intelligence and technology through the Drone Unit to detect and deter offending, giving us the ability to flexibly deploy resources to where they’re most needed.

“We know these groups often travel between popular beach locations so we’ll be closely monitoring the public transport network to ensure that everyone can go about their day and night safely.”

The 2017 Guidelines to Surveillance and Privacy in the Victorian Public Sector outline that any use of surveillance technology must be ‘necessary, proportionate and for a legitimate purpose related to the activities of the organisation.’

The operation runs until March next year, and has been called a gross violation of privacy by Digital Rights Watch chair Tim Singleton Norton:

“Is it necessary and proportionate for police officers to constantly surveil large numbers of the public, often in a state of undress? For members of the public to have their bodies subjected to surveillance in these circumstances is invasive and often deeply uncomfortable.

Imagine, you are on the beach in your togs and at any moment there could be a police officer — male or female — observing you from the sky? It’s not just a dampener on summer relaxation time, it’s downright creepy.

Our beaches are public areas that everyone should feel free to use without the scrutiny of someone watching from a control room far afield.”

The announcement follows similar moves by other Australian states, with increased use of surveillance drone technology as a means of ‘crime prevention’ spreading across the country.

EYES IN THE SKY

Earlier this year, it was announced that police drones would be monitoring crowds at Melbourne events and high-risk locations such as the MCG, following the launch of a specialist new drone unit.

The drones are able to run 24/7 and use night vision. Funded by the state government, the specialist taskforce will also further arm the ‘fight against terrorism’.

Inspector Craig Shepherd said the addition of mobile eyes in the sky would be a boost to the capability of police across the state, including during a raft of emergency situations.

“The introduction of this unit is expected to enhance the work our police do every day, from attending crimes scenes, managing emergency situations, public order management, search and rescue and situational awareness,” Inspector Shepherd said.

Similarly, in Western Australia, the state government will be deploying a new fleet of state-of-the-art aerial drones, which will be used in criminal investigations and search and rescue operations.

Police Minister Michelle Roberts confirmed a significant expansion of the WA Police Force’s remote aircraft capability, with 35 drones to expand its Air Wing fleet and train 60 pilots over two years.

They would be fitted with high definition video recording cameras, thermal imaging technology, floodlights and speakers and would be suitable for both day and night time operations.

Roberts said she anticipated the drones would be available for use by every police district across WA.

Just how much has drone use and profitability increased in recent times? Well, James Murdoch is backing the rising industry — now used in military and police operations — with other billionaires.

The son of Rupert Murdoch has backed the seed round of a drone technology company, shining a light on an industry already reaching unprecedented heights — mostly unregulated.

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DRONES IN AUSTRALIA

The prevalence of surveillance drones in both government and police operations has increased tenfold over the last decade, representing a key aspect of advances in tech-driven monitoring.

Drones present a much easier, faster, and cheaper method of image and data collection and they have a number of other key advantages over traditional surveillance.

Drones can enter narrow and confined spaces, get closer to subjects without detection, produce minimal noise and can be equipped with night vision cameras and thermal sensors allowing them to provide imagery that the human eye is unable to detect.

The establishment already understands the power of this technology, with Australia’s Pine Gap spy base playing a key role in controversial United States drone strikes.

The primary function of the top-secret signals intelligence base near Alice Springs is to track the precise ”geolocation” of radio signals, including hand-held radios and mobile phones.

The drone program, which has involved more than 370 attacks in Pakistan since 2004, is reported to have killed between 2500 and 3500 ‘militants’, and numerous more civilians as “collateral damage”.

This is the same establishment that will spend $7 billion on a fleet of six long-range unmanned drones to monitor the seas around Australia and feed intelligence to the Five Eyes alliance.

A few years ago, Malcolm Turnbull announced the purchase of the country’s first Triton drone, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and will easily be able to complete a lap of the South China Sea after taking off from the Northern Territory.

It was hinted that the drones would one day be used to support a wide range of police operations including the forensic mapping of crime scenes and police tactical operations.

Is this what we are seeing start to unfold across the country?

Why is Australia building an army of ‘eyes in the sky’?


RELATED CONTENT

Summer violence leads police to monitor Melbourne beaches with drones | The Age

Police drones to monitor crowds at footy, public events from next month | The Age

Spies in the skies: WA Police to hit criminals with surveillance drone force | WA Today

Pine Gap plays crucial role in America’s wars, leaked documents reveal | ABC News

Secret State: The Monitoring of Australia | TOTT News



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