Police drones and body cameras ‘need better scrutiny’

Concerns have been raised around privacy, human rights, proportionality and effectiveness of new technology.

Police drones and body cameras ‘need better scrutiny’ Police Scotland

Police use of drones and body-worn video cameras must be subject to better scrutiny, according to MSPs.

In a report published on Thursday, Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing has recommended a number of steps for the force and its oversight bodies to take before the new technology can be introduced.

Concerns have been raised around privacy, human rights, proportionality and effectiveness which the report says need to be addressed.

John Finnie, convener, said: “Technology undoubtedly has a place in policing.

“However, we have serious concerns that gadgets have been prioritised and introduced without some fundamental questions being asked or answered – by either Police Scotland or the bodies that exist to scrutinise them.

“This at a time when police IT systems remain in sore need of improvement to support basic policing functions.

“This is not the first time the Sub-Committee on Policing has uncovered issues similar to these, so lessons must this time be learned.

“Not only is the current situation far from best practice or what we deem acceptable, there is a serious risk that Police Scotland could find themselves on the wrong side of privacy or human rights legal challenges.

“It is our sincere hope that our successors in the next parliament do not come across these same issues.”

The report recommends that the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) should take a much more comprehensive oversight role.

This would involve probing, reviewing and monitoring any changes to policing practice that have the potential to impact lives and alter the relationship between officers and the public – not just those which cost more than the £500,000 threshold.

It also calls for the use of both drones and body-worn, video cameras to be subject to regular review, with their use checked against what was initially proposed and approved.

Purchasing and the rollout of drones were also criticised as not being “nearly transparent enough” and without consideration of all impacts fully.

An SPA spokeswoman said: “The authority’s policing performance committee will consider the Justice Sub-Committee on policing’s report at a future meeting.”

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “We have a duty to investigate how new technology can help keep people safe, and we are committed to consulting with the public on its use.

“We are developing a new, consistent approach to this with the Scottish Police Authority.

“Drones can and will save lives. They enable us to conduct overt searches across large geographical areas for missing people that would otherwise take officers days, if not weeks, to complete.

“They are a low cost, effective and very visible reassuring asset that can support our existing helicopter.

“Drones are not intended or suitable for covert use, they are not used covertly and we have no plans to do so.

“We recently carried out public engagement on the introduction of body-worn video for our armed police officers, which is a vital piece of equipment, and received a very strong response showing very high levels of public support.”

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