A generic image of a drone

Covert drones may be flown by Wealden District Council

Drones may be deployed by Wealden District Council in covert operations to obtain evidence of criminal behaviour.

A detailed policy has been set out by the council ensuring all legal requirements are met before unmanned aerial vehicles (uavs) are used in this way.

Publication of the policy at the end of last month follows news that the council had bought two drones, as reported by UckfieldNews.com here

The council generally believes drones will be used in an overt way, with signage in place when flying is taking place.

Possible uses include:

  • Inspecting dangerous buildings
  • Gaining an overview of major development sites
  • In enforcement, especially where staff could be at risk in confrontational situations
  • Searching for remote fly-tips
  • Coastal and footpath inspections

The council policy states:

“There is no doubt that the majority of the usage will be overt and not covert.

Drone operators will be wearing high-visibility jackets that are clearly labelled or even uniform that is clearly labelled to show they are from Wealden District Council and that they are drone operators.

Signage out when a drone is in use

“There will be signage placed in the area of the operations that will clearly show that there is a drone being used and that operators will be using vehicles that are clearly marked and labelled as being from Wealden Council and the usage of drones is taking place.

“This can be further enhanced by advising all applicants for planning permission that we operate drones and that we use them for the purposes of viewing developments, sites and for possible breaches of planning rules and regulations.”

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

Covert surveillance would be governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 [RIPA] and the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

The policy states:

“There will be occasions when the drone will be used for covert surveillance, but there are very strict rules and regulations governing its use. This type of surveillance would be called directed surveillance and is defined by the RIPA as being surveillance which is covert but not intrusive and is undertaken:

“a. For the purpose of a specific investigation or specific operation;

“b. In such a manner as likely to result in obtaining of private information about a person or persons whether or not one specifically identified for the purpose of the investigation or the operation and otherwise; and

c. By way of an immediate response to an event or circumstances the nature of which is such that it would not be reasonably practicable for an authorisation under Part 2 of RIPA to be sought for the carrying out of surveillance.”

JP must authorise covert drone surveillance

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 states that all local authorities engaging in any form of directed surveillance must have the surveillance authorised through a Justice of the Peace.

The policy document sums up by saying:

“The drone can be used by Wealden District Council to provide photographic views of sites or proposed sites for planning and development.

“No authorisation is needed in the circumstances providing it is clearly shown that the drone is being used overtly.

“If it is used for the prevention or detection of offences or breaches of regulations and is being used overtly, the use in such circumstances would need to be registered only within the council.

“In circumstance where the drone would be used covertly for the prevention and detection of offences that attract six months imprisonment or more, then authorisation under RIPA has to be obtained before that surveillance can take place.”

See also:

Successful time for Uckfield Lions

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