The Dutch have a new observation drone. It is called the Scan Eagle (by Boeing). Unlike the Raven, this little pretty pretty can fly at 1000 meters for 17 hours and is able to observe and find those who they need to find. Even though some are now overly screaming privacy, it is not about those people. This Super Drone as Gerard Schouw from D66 (Dutch Democratic Party) called it. It needs legislation. Who will it observe? For which purposes will it be used? Where is the data stored? There are no answers at this point. To some extent this part surprised me. The Belgium police had been working with camera mounted helicopters for a while (DSAS). They have been doing this for almost 10 years. The Dutch were not? These questions have never been raised before? Nope, Mr Schouw seems to be correct (not that his statement was ever in doubt). Even though as was observed by others that section 3 of the Dutch Police act gives them leeway to use this solution, with these current levels of assumed invasion of privacy, legal questions would and should be asked. (Thanks to blog by Rejo Zenger at www.rejo.zenger.nl)
Yet, is this just about this observation drone, or just about privacy laws? We see a massive growth in the deployment of drones, some with weapon capacity. What are the real issues? The Dutch like many other nations have CCTV, they have helicopters that could observe and with the eye on admissible evidence in case of prosecutions, the idea that the issues of digital image capturing has not been a legal issue before is slightly puzzling to me at present.
No matter how we see these drones. They are not toys and these devices have a clear need. It does not initially matter whether we are dealing with an armed version, or a mere observation version of the drone. The idea that nations have an effective air force without the need to endanger troops is more than just appealing. In addition, in an age where we MUST lower costs, where a predator costs under 5 million and the average fighter jet is almost 1000% the cost of a predator, can we even consider NOT implementing such options? An option that will keep pilots safe, and in addition offer a solution where extensive costs of training fall largely away. How can this solution be a bad thing to consider? Questions will remain, no doubt and we will always need pilots and actual planes, even if it is to get goods and support systems into place. This little pretty pretty can easily be launched from a small launcher and does not need the infrastructure the Global Hawk needs, making it very versatile and could be a great additional asset to non-military support needs.
My first thought was to take these Scan Eagles, add Israeli FLIR technology and the result could be a first actual effective line of defence that South Africa needs to hunt down Ivory poachers. Especially considering the current dangers to the elephant population and their almost assured future of extinction.
The issue of privacy laws remain as Dutch politician Gerard Schouw observed. That need should actually be considered on a European scale. If these drones are making headway, then exploring the laws and rules of observer drones and the current privacy laws then we see the need to address it from both Civil and Common law views. If we can believe last month’s news, then these issues are very much in play in Germany too. Even though they are now dealing with the issue of US drone strikes as these drones seem to have been operated from Germany, issues on privacy laws as observation drones are operated in other countries will be food for legislation in more than just equal measure, especially as several European defence forces are now in talks/finalising stages for acquiring drone technologies.