Minister Announces Increase in Police Drone Flights
THE HAGUE, 11/05/13 - The Dutch police are to have an Unmanned Aerial Services (UAS) unit, Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten has said in a letter to parliament. According to the centre-left D66 opposition party, the Netherlands will be the first country with such a unit, and the privacy of citizens is at risk.
Last year, the police operated 81 flights over the Netherlands with drones, unmanned mini-planes equipped with day and night cameras. The present flights are only the start of the use of drones in the Netherlands, says Opstelten. “In the future, an increase in the number of flights with unmanned planes is expected."
A formal UAS unit is currently being set up. In preparation for this, some members of the police force are being trained and examined on the Basic Training Rotary Craft UAS pilot service course at the National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) in Amsterdam, Opstelten writes.
D66 wants a separate act to regulate the deployment of drones in the Netherlands. MP Gerard Schouw said Friday on Radio 1 that the privacy of the citizen is at risk. The special police unit being set up specifically to steer the unmanned planes in the air is “a world first,” according to Schouw.
Opstelten says the law does not need to be amended for this, because existing regulations, for example in the area of privacy, would be sufficient. But according to Schouw, there are no rules in the Netherlands for the use of the pictures taken by the drones.
The D66 MP points out that the word drone does not appear anywhere in Dutch legislation. In the US, there are already states and cities with separate laws for the use of drones. Schouw wants to follow this example.
The defence ministry has 75 Raven type drones. The justice minister can at the request of a mayor or public prosecutor make a request to Defence for the loan of a drone.
Opstelten writes that in 2012, photos taken by drones led to prosecution in several cannabis investigations. With a heat camera, a Raven tracked down a cannabis plantation. The minister gave no other examples of prosecutions based on drone photos.
A mayor can request a drone for crowd control. A prosecutor can make use of the drones for criminal investigations. The letter does not show what the ratio is between the number of flights undertaken as support for crowd control and the number for police investigations.
The police themselves also have “a few” unmanned aircraft. They are used for “innovation purposes and investigation.” Opstelten stresses that these drones are not used for police investigations or maintaining law and order.
Private individuals also fly remotely controlled planes above the Netherlands. According to Opstelten, this sector consists of over 100 companies. Local government services like the fire brigade and public works department make use of these private services for purposes including “photo reports from the air of buildings, terrain or events” and “inspections of industrial properties.” Opstelten gave no numbers for these commercial flights.