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Police seek bigger picture in using drones but libertarians incensed

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Tom Hyland

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POLICE in Victoria are considering the use of drone surveillance aircraft, a move that has alarmed civil liberties advocates.

Other police agencies, including the Australian Federal Police are interested in the technology.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the force was considering the ''potential operational use'' of the unmanned aircraft, which can be fitted with high-definition cameras and sensors.

The president of Liberty Victoria, Spencer Zifcak, said he was surprised to hear police were interested in using drones, warning they would significantly increase the potential for surveillance on political protests and private activities.

But Peggy MacTavish, the executive director of the Association for Unmanned Aerial Systems Australia, an industry-backed body, said technology for intruding on privacy already existed.

''Check out Google Earth, Google Maps, conventional aviation. This sort of activity had been going on for years,'' she said.

Queensland police have already tested a small drone for surveillance and search and rescue operations.

Any bid by police to adopt drone technology would require the approval of the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which is under pressure from commercial operators to allow unmanned aircraft to share the same airspace as piloted planes within two years.

Drones are being approved for operations by police in the United States from tomorrow.