RegulationSecuritySurveillance-ITWorkspace

Drones Will Benefit But Do Pose Risk, Report Warns

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Drones are set to become increasingly popular and will deliver benefits, but there are security, privacy and safety risks

A new report has warned of the risks associated with the increasing use of unmanned drones.

Research by the University of Birmingham has highlighted the privacy, safety and indeed security risks of drones over the next 20 years, especially as the aircraft could be possibly used by terror groups to attack public events.

The warning comes just days after the US TV show, Hawaii Five-O, featured a drone attacking members of the public.

Drone WorriesDrone copter delivery robot © Robert Mandel shutterstock

The University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report predicts that drones “will become an integral part of Britain’s aerospace capability”.

It also believes that “drone technology, both civil and military, under proper legal regulation, can continue to deliver ‘significant benefits’ for the UK’s national security policy and economy in the coming decades.”

However the report also highlighted potential concerns associated with drones, and urged the government and MoD to reach out to the general public over the issue. On the civilian side, the report pointed to the possible safety and privacy issues associated with drones, but also warned that drones could be used by groups hostile to UK interests.

“The threat to deployed UK forces and UK interests from RPA (i.e. Remotely Piloted Aircraft or drones) operated by hostile groups and states must be expected to increase,” the report warned.

“For too long drone technology has carried a burden of ethical suspicion given its controversial use for counter-terrorist strikes by the US,” said Policy Commission Chair Sir David Omand, the first UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator and former Director of GCHQ.

“RPA will also have an important role in future in civil security and commercial use,” added Sir Omand. “This Commission has highlighted the need for more work on the policies for such applications, and we hope that our findings will help clarify the issues that will need more attention, as well as providing a vision for how the UK can exploit this innovative technology.”

Rule Change

At the moment, drones in the UK can only be used within sight of the operator and with permission of the Civil Aviation Authority. But the report wants UK authorities to examine possible rule changes that will be needed to safeguard security and British airspace in the future.

However, the fear is that they could also be used to invade privacy, with them being used by nosey neighbours through to paparazzi seeking celebrity photos. The worry is that they could also be used by burglars, or indeed terrorists to attack public areas or events such as a shopping centre or a sports stadium.

google-x-project-wing-1Last year, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt warned that drones operated by members of the public do pose a privacy and security risk. Prior to that, in 2010, Google was accused of  experimenting with unmanned aerial vehicles, something it vehemently denied at the time.

However, this summer, the search engine giant admitted it was developing its own fleet of airborne drones for home deliveries.

It is not alone in this regard. Amazon revealed in December 2013 that it was working on its own home delivery drone fleet, and would launch an Amazon Prime Air service sometime around 2018.

The British government this week announced that it will be using drones over Syria to gather intelligence on Islamic State militants.

A number of British police forces are thought to be using drones for surveillance, and earlier this week, a man was arrested after a drone was flown over Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium during a Premier League game against Tottenham Hotspur.

Are you an expert at drones and robots? Take our quiz!