Tag Archives: drone

Inaccurate, sensationalist journalism impedes a true understanding of drone issues

An inaccurate news report produced by Sky News concerning drone related calls made by the public to UK police forces, and a subsequent copycat report by the Daily Telegraph, highlight the media’s apparent obsession with mere sensationalism over meaningful accurate reporting.

The so-called exclusive Sky News story published on the 23rd February, included a sub-heading which stated, ‘Forces receive more than 2400 reports of drone incidents in 2018 including criminal damage, harassment and voyeurism.’  The report went on to say, ‘Police Chiefs have warned drone users they will face “serious consequences” if they use the gadgets to commit crimes – with the number of reported incidents rising by 40% between 2016 and 2018.

Via freedom of information requests Sky News obtained drone call details from 20 Police Forces showing in Sky’s words, ‘2435 reports of drone incidents in 2018 – up 2% on 2017 (2377 incidents) and 42% higher than 2016 (1709 incidents).’

Four days before the Sky News report was published, I published details in this blog of drone calls logged by 24 Police Forces across the country in 2018, obtained via freedom of information requests that I had made. The data showed a rise from 3024 calls in 2017 to 3421 in 2018. Unlike the Sky News report my post provided a table of the number of calls received by each of the responding police forces. The table showed that 8 of the 24 forces actually had a drop in drone related calls being logged.

Sky News and the copycat Daily Telegraph report describe the calls as ‘incidents’. This is factually inaccurate. How can calls for example received from professional drone pilots telling the police where they will be flying be described as ‘incidents’? They cannot, and with there being a significant number of such calls logged, it points to both Sky and the Daily Telegraph being unconcerned about factual accuracy that might get in the way of a ‘good’, sensationalist story. The Sky report provides no inkling that some police forces have shown a decline a drone related calls, instead choosing to provide unbalanced sensationalist discussion of some of the specific calls made across a number of forces.

The real story, and the one that should have been reported and analysed, is that there appears from the data a slowdown in calls being made by the public in respect to drones. If there is a slowdown and perhaps a decline in the number of calls made then we need to consider what the factors might be for this development. We may ask for example whether leisure drone flyers are being more responsible? Perhaps alternatively there has been a decline in the leisure user flying of drones?

The Sky News report quotes Merseyside Police Deputy Chief Constable Serena Kennedy, the National Police Chiefs Council lead on the criminal use of drones, stating, ‘Those who chose to use drones for a criminal purpose should be in no doubt that they face serious consequences and police will use all available powers to investigate and prosecute them.’ She continued, ‘We are currently working with government, the Civil Aviation Authority and others on future legislation to meet the challenges and risks posed by drones. At the same time all forces are working together to ensure consistency in the way these incidents are recorded and investigated.’

The fact that Serena Kennedy uses the word incidents could perhaps absolve Sky News as to its own use of the word. That however would seem generous, as it is not clear the precise context in which Kennedy uses the word,  whether for example she is merely referring to the criminal use of drones.

A further point of interest is her reference to all police forces working together to ensure consistency in the recording and investigation of drone ‘incidents’  It is however questionable whether all forces are on board in achieving this aim. A feature of trying to obtain freedom of information data relating to drones from across all UK police forces is that there is no clear uniformity of practice. At best, some forces provide relatively good background detail on what specifically each call concerned, whilst other forces will only provide a number relating to a general police classification. At worst however, freedom of information requests for drone data are rejected because there is no easy searchable mechanism available, and with each record having to be gone through manually the cost involved enables the particular force to reject the FOI request. Without doubt, a uniform system would be significantly beneficial, enabling a much more accurate picture to be provided both regionally and nationally. It would also perhaps enable a more deeper questioning of why despite Serena Kennedy’s claims that the police will use all the powers available to them to prosecute offenders, to date in five years there have only been seven prosecutions for violations of the Air Navigation Order rules involving drones. This is surely a matter that a supposed professional media organisation should be reporting on rather than producing deliberately inaccurate sensationalism.

 

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Gatwick drone(s) – a preventable wake-up call? (Update)

The Gatwick drone incursions that caused chaos over three days at the busiest time of the year for airports will likely force the hand of the government into what some will consider as long overdue action. Unsurprisingly there are calls for further regulation, without at times those who make such demands really understanding what it is precisely that they are seeking. Even before the drone incursions occurred the government were already in the planning stage to add additional regulations, which include a compulsory registration scheme, and some additional police powers such as the ability to issue fixed penalty notices.

So would additional regulations have made any difference at Gatwick? We obviously still do not know the motives of those behind the illegal incursions, but given the numerous drone flights made at Gatwick over such a lengthy period of time, it has to be suggested that it is unlikely that any additional criminal penalties would have made any difference. Criminal laws are used to punish and deter. Amongst a number of regulatory provisions that appear to have been violated by those flying the drones is Air Navigation Order rule 240 which prohibits a person recklessly or negligently endangering an aircraft, for which the maximum penalty is 5 years in prison or an unlimited fine. Would increasing this to 10/20/30 years have made any difference?

It is perhaps somewhat ironic that one of the possible reasons for the Gatwick drone fiasco, which has economically been so disasterous, is that the government have been over several years fixated by the massively speculative financial benefits the emerging drone industry could benefit the UK economy by. Some might argue that has led them into a paralysis of doing nothing that could impact this sought after ‘golden egg’. But then it can be argued it is one thing creating new regulations that could impede drone commercial use and development, and quite another seeking to protect key infrastructure and maintaining the confidence of the public.

The government may seek to portray the incurisons as unique and without parallel, but the fact is this is not the first occurrence of an incursion at Gatwick which has led to disruption. On the 2nd July 2017 over a half hour period a drone incurison led to several hours of serious delay. Why were the lessons of this incident not learnt? This is a serious indictment of the government, and one they should rightly be held to account. It is no use saying the recent incursions were without parallel because clearly it could be envisaged that a malicious attempt to bring utter chaos to the airport at the busiest time of the year was a strong possibility. We must also go further and ask what immediate measures have been taken to better protect all key national infrastructure? Are they all so vulnerable?

The call for further regulation suffers from an additional weakness, and that is its value when enforcement of existing laws are so patchy. One of the statistics that has been much mentioned  following the Gatwick incursions are the large and growing number of drone near misses with manned aircraft. In not one of these many incidents reported to the Airprox Board which investigates such incidents has the drone pilot involved ever been identified. Outside of convictions for using drones to deliver contraband into prisons, since the first conviction in 2014 for violations of the Air Navigation Order rules there have in total only been it is believed seven convictions. The most recent being in November, when in Cambridgeshire a man was fined £184 for flying his drone in conflict with a Police helicopter that had been on a search and rescue mission. The low level of convictions speaks volumes. At a time of very stretched resources what are the Police to prioritise?

There has with the Gatwick incident been much discussion on the use of technological solutions, and why these have not been more widely adopted. Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg when pressed on such matters in the House of Lords, merely stated that the government remained in discussion with technology manufacturing companies.  The concern with the use of jamming equipment is the possibility of a collateral impact in seeking to block signals. Who or what else could be impacted by use of such equipment? There are laws in place on this with the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 making it illegal to use jamming equipment, but Part III of the Police Act 1997 provides for authorisation for law enforcement purposes.

Just two day’s before the Gatwick incident, the Guardian carried a report on the use of anti-drone technology in prisons, which suggested that the Government were considering doing a U-turn and possibly buying anti-drone technology to prevent contraband being delivered into prisons, whereas they had previously chosen not to do so on cost grounds. The reason for the possible change of heart was the apparent success of a system purchased for Les Nicolles prison on Guernsey. The Guernsey system called SkyFence was bought in May 2017, and operates by detecting incoming drones and then blocking signals so that the drone returns to where it came from. An interesting aspect to the Guernsey purchase of the system was that whilst when installed the prison authorities could use the detection part of the equipment, they could not use the blocking element because under the legislation, the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012, which gives prisons governors the right to use technology to block wireless signals, this legislation when created did not cover Guernsey. It was only in April 2018 that secondary legislation was passed – the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy)(Guernsey) Order 2018, to amend the original legislation to include Guernsey and thus allowing the second part of the equipment to be turned on at Les Nicolles.

One of the potential impacts of the Gatwick debacle is the effect on public confidence in the use of drone technology. Many in the industry and for example police forces who themselves use drones operationally have worked extremely hard to engage with the public over concerns they might have, and have sought to show the positives of the technology. Gatwick is a major setback, and the failure to address the known potential risks and concerns is a serious indictment of the Government, who now need to re-build trust as a matter of urgency, and hopefully accept responsibility and not seek to provide questionable and disrespectful excuses.

Update

The story has now highlighted a further issue in which the government have arguably been found wanting, and that is the regulation of the media. The couple from Crawley who were arrested on suspicion of being responsible for the incursions at Gatwick by Sussex Police, were released without charge, but in the time from their arrest until their release elements of the media went on what can only be described as an intrusive reporting frenzy. The names of the couple were splashed on front pages, alongside a number of pictures of them and their home. There were also highly questionable banner headlines such as from the Daily Mail with, ‘Are these the morons who ruined Christmas?’. Such reporting again raises serious questions over what is legally and morally allowable when police are conducting their enquiries and are questioning suspects. The recent case involving Sir Cliff Richard in which the BBC were found liable for violating his privacy rights in naming Sir Cliff is a prime salutory example.

The Government as part of the Conservative Party manifesto for the last election dropped the proposed second part of the Leveson Inquiry (Leveson 2) into press standards, and in May this year they saw off a House of Commons vote that sought to force them into having to conduct the second part.

Calls are already being heard for an enquiry into Gatwick, and it can be envisaged that such calls will now encompass the role of the press, and the wider question of press standards in general.

 

 

 

UK government drone proposals

The UK government has today ( 22nd July 2017) released its response to the drone public consultation exercise it carried out between December of last year and March of this year, and for the most part it remains very much a work in progress for most of the issues under consideration.

The one big decision that it has announced, which can hardly come as any surprise, is that the government will require drones above 250 grammes in weight to be registered. So why has it reached this decision, and why set it at above 250 grammes? The answers to these questions can be found in fresh research the government commissioned on the potential collision impact of drones hitting manned aircraft. It should be noted that even within a few hours of the research document being released, the way the research was undertaken has already been criticised by some drone users on the basis that unrealistic conditions were used when compared to actual flight scenarios.

That may or may not be true, but the government have clearly set their registration stall out, with plenty of encouragement from the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), who were one of the partner organisations in the collision impact research exercise. The results of this research showed that a 400 gramme drone could critically damage a helicopter windscreen and its tail rotor blade. Therefore, the government has chosen to set its registration requirement at machines weighing 250 grammes or more.

In its Consultation Report the government states that a registration scheme will help to improve safety, security and privacy. However, arguably the clear main focus of government attention is safety, and particularly safety in respect to manned aircraft. If the government were equally focussed on privacy for instance, then all drones (how will drones be defined for registration purposes?) no matter what weight, if they include a camera would need to have been registered, as it is perfectly possible to buy a drone under 250 grammes that possesses a decent quality, potentially privacy invasive filming system.

Whilst a registration scheme is to be introduced, there remain several unknowns conected to it. How much will the registration cost and will there be an annual renewal fee? The government have made clear that the drone user will be footing the bill for the running of the registration scheme. It also seems likely, although it has not been explicitly stated, that registration will not take place at the point of sale, when the drone is purchased. Arguably, a more robust registration scheme should be at the point of sale, but this would be burdensome  supposedly for retailers, so it is likely drone users will have to register after purchase.

But then comes another new feature of the government requirements – drone users will have to take a mandatory assessment test in order to at least in part be considered competent/eligible to fly their drone. How this is going to work is at present unclear. The government seem to be pointing to a form of online test to be taken at the same time as registration is made. So it could be that the test has to be successfully completed before registration can be undertaken. The test is described by the government as a basic knowledge of the law and how to fly safely, with the areas covered being safety, security and privacy. The use by the government of the word basic would point to a simple, straightforward awareness of the law test, but then for example when it comes to data protection and privacy law the word basic could arguably point to something a good deal more detailed.

In a move to allay some of the concerns of Model Aircraft Flying Clubs and their members, there is likely to be some exemptions as regards registration and the educational test. This if done correctly could encourage drone flyers or potential flyers to join such clubs.

Most of the other issues raised during the consultation exercise, such as insurance, electronic identification, and changes to the Air Navigation Order Rules and penalties imposed remain open issues for further consideration by the government.

When the registration scheme will become operational is unknown. It will be interesting to see whether following the introduction of the scheme there is a decline in the calls the public make to the police as regards drones, and the level of near misses to manned aircraft declines. Additionally, it will also be of interest to see how the police will deal with complaints they receive following the introduction of the registration scheme. A major problem for the police has been in regards to the level of resources they are prepared to commit to what in most instances they might consider low level offences.

Action Mesothelioma Day – The 5000 deaths that go unreported

Every year the first friday of July see’s Action Mesothelioma Day in the UK, where events take place across the country to both raise awareness of the scourge of asbestos and to commemorate and remember those who have succumbed to the individious diseases caused by exposure to asbestos.

Raising awareness of asbestos and the issues surrounding the legacy of 100 years or so of its widespread use in this country has always been challenging for victims and campaigners. This year perhaps more than ever before, with Brexit and the continuing fall-out politically and economically of the referendum, and England’s latest footballing disaster holding the nation’s attention, Action Mesothelioma Day and its important messages will at best receive the odd cursory line here and there in the media. But those messages of life and death have an importance deserving of the nation’s attention. With around 2,500 people dying this year from mesothelioma, and a further 2,500 succumbing to other asbestos related diseases, the paucity of attention given to Action Mesothelioma Day is shameful.

With such human carnage, we need also look to see how our Government has responded to the plight of the innocent victims of asbestos, and the protection of its citizens from exposure to asbestos that remains in situ across the country, especially in our schools. This Government has been strong on concerning words, but arguably limited and even contradictory in its actions.

On a positive note this year, the Government announced that it will use £5 million from the fines it is levying on banks that has been earmarked as part of the Military Covenant, to fund a mesothelioma research centre for the next three to four years. Whilst asbestos campaigners have long argued that there needs to be meaningful research funds made available for asbestos related diseases, it is perhaps instructive that this move by the Government only came about through links to the Military Covenant. Although the funding is to be welcomed, it is in reality inadequate given that it is £5 million over three to four years, arguably representing a minimalist approach, but of course the Government will undoubtedly seek to refer to it time and again to show how they have listened and taken action.

A further positive move, again linked to the Military Covenant, was the announcement that ex-military personnel who have contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos whilst in the armed services and who until now were not eligible for lump sum compensation, will now be entitled to £140,000. It is disappointing however that this compensation has so far not been made available to those ex-military personnel who have suffered other asbestos related diseases.

Thus the Government can refer to two positive moves it has made recently whenever the topic of asbestos is raised with them. But what you will not hear about are instances where the Government actually seek to act to the detriment of asbestos victims and their families. It is bad enough their inaction, such as not appropriately addressing asbestos in schools, but when they positively act in a detrimental way, this needs highlighting to ensure hypocritical claims of concern that they continue to espouse are placed into the appropriate context. It is highly symbolic that in the very week of Action Mesothelioma Day this year we have been provided with such an example. Cyril Hollow, worked for 20 years as a decorator in the Royal Navy dockyard at Devonport. He was negligently exposed to asbestos by his employer, the Government, and died in 2010 of lung cancer. His family brought a legal action against his employer, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and in Exeter County Court in 2014 following the admittance of negligence by the Government the central issue was that of contributory negligence, and how much the damages to be awarded should be reduced due to Mr Hollow’s smoking habit. The Government argued the damages should be reduced by between 85 and 90%. In the event the judge decided that a fair and equitable reduction should be 30% and damages of £80,000 were awarded instead of over £100,000 that would have been awarded without the contributory negligence.

A major issue has been how asbestos and smoking interact in causing lung cancer, and because of the lack of research into asbestos diseases, much remains unknown as to the precise interaction, with experts widely disagreeing as a consequence. The 30% reduction due to Mr Hollow’s contributory negligence was in fact a far higher reduction than in two previous asbestos lung cancer cases where smoking was an issue. In the case of Badger v MOD (2005) a reduction of 20% was made, and in Shortell v BICAL (2008) the reduction was 15%. In Mr Hollow’s case the Government were however not content with the 30% reduction, and in the week of Action Mesothelioma Day, Lord Justice Tomlinson in the Court of Appeal has granted a request by the Government for a full appeal to be heard on the issue of the level of contributory negligence.

Whilst Mr Hollow may not have been a member of the armed services, he served his country by working in the Devonport dockyard, and yet the Government wish to decimate the compensation they have to pay for his death. The country may not hear much about Action Mesothelioma Day, but those attending the various events will have had in their thoughts Mr Hollow and the thousands of other victims of asbestos.

Sunday Times drone jamming report raises interesting issues

Today’s report in the Sunday Times that jamming equipment is being installed to prevent drones flying over sensitive sites should come as no surprise. My understanding is that at least one Premiership football club have been using jamming technology for some time to prevent drones flying over their ground.

It does raise some interesting questions. Outside of the security services jamming of radio signals, such jamming is illegal under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, so there is the issue of ensuring that any blocking of signals is being carried out legally. The scope of the blocking is a further matter of concern. There is it seems the strong likelihood that radio signals will be affected outside of the immediate zone of protection. Whilst the jamming technology may be set to block signals on the commonly used frequencies for drone flying, what of drones being flown outside of those frequencies?

A further question is if jamming technology is blocking the signal to a drone, what will happen to the drone? Will it just fall to the ground, potentially causing injury?  So who would be liable?

 

 

 

The public acceptance challenge facing civil drone use

Drones are currently one of the fastest moving technology stories, but included in the growing daily newsflow coverage are clear warning signs of the challenges facing civil drone use due to various public concerns. Whilst we already are aware of these major concerns such as safety, privacy, nuisance, trespass etc., and despite a desire to address them by governments and the various bodies discussing the wide scale development of civil drones, it is quite possible we will fail to do so effectively to the detriment of the drone industry.

Last week, amongst the continuous daily newsflow were three news items that help us in understanding the problems faced. The first of these items related to the changes made to the New Zealand regulatory rules for the flying of drones. The second story was the call by Amazon in its quest to develop a drone delivery business, of having dedicated air space corridors for its operations. The last item was news of a drone shot down in Kentucky by an irate householder, angry at the drone’s intrusion into what he saw as his private space. By linking these news items with research I have carried out using FOI requests to UK Police forces to discover the level of drone related complaints recently made by the public in the UK, gives us an insight into public acceptance problems that are not future concerns, but are very much with us now.

The recently introduced regulations for flying drones in New Zealand highlight key problematic issues that countries around the world will need to address, arguably the sooner the better. The risk based approach taken by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority which is designed to enhance safety where drones are being flown, has at its heart two core regulations. The first, Part 101 of the New Zealand Civil Aviation Rules, includes what are generally common features in a number of national unmanned aircraft regulations – that an unmanned aircraft must remain in the line of sight of the operator and that the aircraft cannot be flown higher than 400 feet above the ground. What makes the New Zealand regulations stand out however, are that Part 101 also requires that drones cannot be flown over people without their actual consent, or flown over property without the occupiers consent. These requirements are a clear recognition by the New Zealand authorities of public concerns. For commercial drone operators having to obtain such consent would likely in many instances prove time consuming and challenging. However, the new Part 1 consent requirements are not designed as such for commercial drone operators, with the rationale being that if commercial operators needed to seek such permission it should be a signal to them that their flying operations are likely to be hazardous, and as such they should not be flying under Part 101 rules, but instead should seek from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority a Part 2 certification for flying. The Part 102 operating requirements are established on a case by case basis, giving potentially greater flying scope than available under Part 101. However, to obtain a Part 102 certificate a drone operator needs to go through an extensive process providing the New Zealand CAA with detailed information relating to the risks of their intended operations and the measures taken to mitigate such risks.

Those operating under Part 101 rules will primarily be non-commercial – leisure drone flyers, but a major question for all regulatory authorities is just how such regulations are going to be enforced? The new regulations reflect not just safety concerns, but also privacy concerns, and in New Zealand the central organisation for privacy related matters are the Privacy Commissioners Office. Alongside the New Zealand CAA and Privacy Commissioner, the other primary enforcement agency of course are New Zealand Police, who would it can be surmised be expected to play a central role in such enforcement. But without technical means of identification, public organisations with finite resources and perhaps stronger priority calls on such resources will face considerable difficulties enforcing such regulations. Only last week in the UK, Chief Constable Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs Council, warned that with stretched Police resources, burglaries may no longer even be investigated. She pointed out that for UK Police the three central priorities are child sex crime, cybercrime and terrorism. So it can be envisaged that unless specific drone activity is likely to cause serious safety concerns then little resource allocation can be expected to be generally forthcoming.

Later this year in the UK, Nigel Wilson faces the first ever Police led prosecution for alleged multiple infringements of the Air Navigation Orders, after on numerous occasions flying his drone over Premier League football grounds. Whether a successful prosecution of Mr Wilson will act as a deterrent to other drone flyers as some may hope, is perhaps a tad optimistic. It is striking that Mr Wilson’s case is the first Police led prosecution given the number of complaints received by Police across the UK, but with what I have already said regarding resources it is unsurprising.

The following table provides details of how many calls Police forces around the UK have received relating to drones roughly over the last couple of years. These details were provided under FOI requests. Unfortunately North Yorkshire Police, Police Scotland, Essex Police, Surrey Police and Wiltshire Police were all unable to provide any figures as they said the costs involved in identifying drone related calls would be too great.

Police Force Period Calls Logged
Avon & Somerset 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Dec 2014 17
Bedfordshire 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Dec 2014 7
Cambridgeshire July 2013 – June 2015 1
Cheshire 1 Jan 2014 – 31 May 2015 3
Cleveland 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 5
Cumbria 1 Jan 2014 – 31 May 2015 9
Derbyshire 1 Jan 2014 – 26 Jun 2015 16
Devon & Cornwall 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 9
Dorset July 2013 – June 2015 1
Durham 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 5
Gloucestershire 1 July 2013 – 31 May 2015 6
Greater Manchester 1 Jan 2013 – 14 Jun 2015 30
Hampshire 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Mar 2015 16
Hertfordshire 1 May 2013 – 1 May 2015 33
Kent Jan 2014 – Mar 2015 12
Lancashire 1 Jan 2014 – 15 Jun 2015 34
Leicestershire June 2013 – May 2015 6
Lincolnshire June 2013 – May 2015 8
Merseyside 1 Jun 2013 – 31 May 2015 24
Metropolitan Police 1 Jun 2013 – 31 May 2015 13
Norfolk July 2013 – Jun 2015 12
Northamptonshire 1 Jun 2013 – 31 May 2015 5
Northumbria June 2013 – May 2015 25
Nottinghamshire 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Dec 2014 17
South Wales 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 5
South Yorkshire 1 Jun 2013 – 25 Jun 2015 5
Staffordshire June 2013 – May 2015 21
Suffolk 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 17
Sussex June 2013 – May 2015 27
Thames Valley 1 Apr 2013 – 31 Mar 2015 31
Warwickshire June 2013 – May 2015 3
West Mercia 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Dec 2014 7
West Midlands 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 4
West Yorkshire 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 7

Even more interesting than the total number of calls received by the Police are the specifics of the calls that have been made. 24 of the Police forces listed above also provided descriptions of the nature of the calls/complaints received. I have split these into various categories in the table below. It should be noted that some of the matters complained about in calls fall into more than one category in the table.

Type of Incident/Complaint Number
Hit or Near Miss – Person or Property 5
Landed in private garden or on driveway 6
Flown over houses, gardens or local street 77
Alleged/possible criminal use 8
Surveillance and Privacy, or camera mentioned 44
Possible filming of children 5
Anti-social behaviour/harassment/nuisance 15
Flown over public places, public buildings or drone flying with no other details 93
Flown near planes/helicopters or in civil airspace or restricted area 8
Drone crash 7
Physical assault due to drone use 2
Noise 3
Civil disputes/ Neighbour disputes 14

Created with the HTML Table Generator

One of the complaints received by Lincolnshire Police was from a person who annoyed at having a drone fly over his garden took out a rifle, presumably an air rifle, and shot at the drone. The fact that he actually complained to the Police about the drone and told them what he had done speaks volumes. Only last week in the United States, Kentucky resident, William Merideth, annoyed at what he said was a privacy infringement, shot down a drone which led to his arrest. There are contradictory accounts from Merideth and the drones owner as to the height the drone was flying at, with Merideth claiming it was far lower than the drone owner believes, who has sought to show through the release of video footage the flying height of the drone. In reality if we are talking about a potential invasion of privacy, with the high quality cameras now available a hundred feet either way would unlikely be significant. But of course most people would assume that the closer a drone is to you then the more invasive it will seem, particularly if it has a camera.

Amazon’s announcement last week that in order to help facilitate drone delivery services it is calling for an air corridor between 200 and 400 feet above the ground to be used solely for sophisticated high speed drones raises further difficult questions. Firstly, this would force all other drones not given access to this corridor into flying below 200 feet, which may well add to concerns the public have. Without robust technical controls however it would seem impossible to enforce such a blockage on access to the 200 – 400 feet zone. But a further important matter is that whilst Amazon and other operators may see a unique commercial opportunity, and these commercial drones will be operating above 200 feet, except of course when they are coming into land and deliver, how will the public be consulted on such a proposal to have a meaningful possibility of influencing the decision making process?

Part of the overall problem facing decision makers lies in the rapid speed of development of the drone industry, and how to balance the various parties interests. New Zealand has clearly sought to balance those various interests, but as I have pointed out there is likely to be a hugely problematic enforcement issue, which may if not properly addressed lead to those disgruntled about drones taking their own self help measures.

Drone photojournalist arrest highlights urgent need to improve drone regulatory rules

The arrest this week of a Civil Aviation Authority authorised commercial drone user, photojournalist Eddie Mitchell by Surrey Police, highlights the ongoing weaknesses and vagaries that are present in the regulatory structure for drone users in the UK at present.

With concerns over the rapid growth in drone users, especially with drones expected to be a must have present at Christmas, I understand various police forces in the UK have issued guidance to their officers on the range of offences that could be committed from drone use that would enable police officers to carry out an arrest and potentially seek a prosecution, one of these offences being a breach of the peace. What the police authorities have failed to do so far however, is to appropriately train their officers on drone use and how they should handle situations where drones are being flown. The initial report of Mr Mitchell’s arrest by Surrey Police in the Guardian for potential breach of the peace highlighted that Mr Mitchell’s flying of the drone was close to Gatwick airport, suggesting his arrest was related in some way to endangering aircraft. This appears incorrect as Mr Mitchell was using his drone equipment close to a caravan site where there had been a fatal fire. The site is used by travellers and the breach of the peace alleged by the police seems more likely to relate to the possible reaction by those present at the caravan site to the drone flying overhead. From the photographs published of the arrest, it seems Surrey police made a rather ham fisted attempt at arresting Mr Mitchell whilst his drone was still in the air. Untrained in the flying of drones they appear to have snatched the control box resulting in the drone ultimately crashing to the ground, potentially of course risking injuries.

drone Picture by Darren Cool

Peter Lee in his blog Drones and the Law, suggests that the CAA may have to start issuing ID cards for those they have authorised to fly drones commercially to avoid potential misunderstandings. But clearly even where the police are aware that a person is a bona fide commercial drone operator and they wish that person to cease their flying they must know how to handle the situation appropriately, within designated laid down procedures.

On a wider note as a matter of some urgency non commercial drone users must be made aware of the rules by which they must abide by when flying drones. At the recent House of Lords Select Committee enquiry into drones there has been discussion about requiring manufacturers to place guidance material in the boxes containing the drone when they are sold. I would suggest that actually this will not be sufficient and a far wider publicity campaign will be needed.