European Union developing its own surveillance drones

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 - 9:19am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

More than pounds 320?million has been spent on developing European Union surveillance drones without proper democratic oversight, a report from a civil liberties watchdog has found.

Neither Britain's House of Commons nor the European Parliament has been consulted over the development of EU unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), similar in size to military drones, being designed to police Europe's skies.

The contribution from British taxpayers to the projects is estimated to be more than pounds 46?million, despite publicly declared opposition from David Cameron to any EU surveillance drones owned or operated at the European level.

The report by Statewatch, a European civil liberties watchdog, has uncovered the allocation of euros 70?million (pounds 58?million), inserted into an EU regulation on air traffic control for this year.

The legislation declared it "a politically driven priority" to develop drones for use in surveillance by police forces, border guards and security services.

The watchdog also uncovered close links between industry and EU officials. It said "at least a dozen" officials have received awards for their "personal commitment and contribution" to drones from a security industry lobbying group that represents manufacturers of the surveillance aircraft.

MEPs and MPs will not be consulted on the programme, nor on the regulation clearing the development of law enforcement surveillance drones that will search for criminals, or to secure public order, by the end of the decade.

"Despite the widely held civil liberties and privacy concerns about the use of drones for policing and surveillance purposes, there's not been a single jot of democratic scrutiny of the EU's activities in this area," said Ben Hayes, one of the report's authors. "This is a recipe for irresponsible innovation, and a proper debate about where the technology is headed is long overdue."

The Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin said the report's finding raised urgent questions about oversight.

"What more proof do people need that the EU is now beyond any kind of democratic accountability? This bureaucracy is out of control, and is spending taxpayers' money on the industries under whose influence they operate, with no democratic oversight," he said.

Following an EU summit agreement in December, Mr Cameron said he had "made it clear that equipment such as drones and air-to-air refuelling tankers are to be owned and operated by the member states".

Statewatch has also identified at least euros 315?million (pounds 261?million) of EU research for the development of control systems and other drone-related projects. "Due to the difficulties in identifying relevant projects, the total EU investment to date is likely to be substantially higher," the report, Eurodrones Inc, states.

While European Commission documents admit "operational use of UAVs is a political decision", the Statewatch study found the EU "has substituted the democratic process for a technocratic one". A commission "road map" in June last year acknowledged "societal issues" over aerial drone surveillance but concluded in "the public area there is no privacy".

An official promised a policy paper on the use of civil security drones, including privacy, next month, adding: "All the documents are public and have been agreed by the British Government."

A spokesman for the Government said: "Decisions regarding the development of this technology is a sovereign matter, and not for EU institutions … The UK will not participate in a project to develop a European unmanned air system."


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