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Counter-drone strategy welcomed

The UK Government’s counter unmanned aircraft strategy has been welcomed.

The drone disruption to Gatwick Airports over 2018 Christmas was a wakeup call for the UK and the rest of the world over the impact of malicious drone use, a foreword to the document admits by Home Office security minister Brandon Lewis; and transport security minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton. They also admitted that ‘tackling malicious drone use is not easy’.

Hence the need for a ‘comprehensive and layered approach’, that will ‘need to blend technological innovation with legislation, regulation and education’. Yet while Government can do the law and regulation, the foreword made plain that ‘at risk’ private industry will have to look after themselves (as what the document termed ‘operational responders’, besides the police), or as the foreword put it, businesses ‘will increasingly have to consider their vulnerability to malicious drone use, and how they should best mitigate it safely and legally’. Nor, as the foreword admitted, will the 38-page document ‘settle the matter’; rather, they described it as ‘a stepping stone’.

The document talked in terms of ‘deter, detect and disrupt’ against malicious drone use, in line with other fields of crime; noticeably absent is any prosecution of offenders. Sussex Police have not brought anyone to justice for the Gatwick drone incursion of December. The document admits that drones are being used to facilitate crime, ‘especially in prisons’, where they are used to smuggle drugs, phones and other contraband items to prisoners. That said, the document says the authorities’ main concern is ‘potential for misuse in support of terrorism, serious and organised crime, or disruption of critical national infrastructure’.

The ministers wrote: “Careless and inconsiderate drone users can cause a nuisance and pose a safety risk to others. Ignorance is not an excuse, but we have already produced clear guidance that sets out the responsibilities of drone users, and planned legislation will make it easier for the police to act against reckless drone use. There are also those who would more deliberately use drones for criminal acts, whether that is to facilitate organised crime, to disrupt our national infrastructure, or to commit acts of terrorism.”

At the defence and security trade association ADS, Chief Executive Paul Everitt said that the strategy rightly recognises the huge potential benefits of drone use to society and our national prosperity.

“There are also risks from malicious use of drones that must be addressed and this strategy recognises that industry engagement should be central to making sure that regulation is effective and proportionate. We welcome the Government’s intention to share more information on threats and vulnerabilities to help focus and encourage investment in the innovation and development that can make the UK a pioneer in this exciting market.”

ADS has published a policy paper detailing risks from malicious drone use and technologies available to tackle it.

Picture by Mark Rowe; Hampshire Police signage in June 2019 at Southsea prohibiting drones during the D-Day anniversary celebrations.


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