Surveillance State: British Police Deploying Drones to Monitor Protests

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Protesters clash with police officers during a "We Do Not Consent" anti-lockdown rally at Trafalgar Square on September 26, 2020 in London, England. Thousands of anti-mask demonstrators protested in Trafalgar Square after the British government imposed tighter coronavirus laws this week. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty …
Hollie Adams/Getty Images

British police have begun employing drones to monitor political protests throughout the country, as campaigners warn that the increasingly heavy-handed tactics employed by the police may be used to “silence dissent”.

A freedom of information request from the UK Drone Watch campaign group found that police across the country have begun using drones to surveil protests.

Police forces in Surrey, Cleveland, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire and West Midlands, as well as the Devon and Cornwall and Avon and Somerset forces, were all found to have used drones during protests, The Guardian reported.

Protesters monitored by the police with drones included anti-lockdown, Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion activists as well as one so-called ‘extreme-right protest’.

Chris Cole of UK Drone Watch said: “Police are adopting this new surveillance technology with little oversight or consent from the public.”

“There seems to be little control over how the data is being gathered or stored with alarmingly worrying replies from the police indicating they do not understand what rights the public have in regard to accessing data,” he explained.

The campaign manager for the human rights organisation Liberty, Rosalind Comyn, claimed that the deployment of drones will be used to limit the right to protest, saying: “Protest is a key way we can all fight for a better society and stand up for what we believe in.

“Recent years have seen a concerted attack on the right to protest from police and government, which particularly threatens people who are already marginalised and cut off from having their voices heard.

“Increased mass surveillance, whether through drones or other developing tools like facial recognition, is designed to intimidate and control, and ultimately silence dissent.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council denied the accusations, with the councils lead for the police use of drones, assistant chief constable Steve Barry, saying: “Police use drones at protests to help inform policing tactics to keep everyone safe. Their use is well regulated and governed by the surveillance commissioner and information commissioner guidelines.”

Police officers in London are also often seen carrying video cameras to document protests and have in recent months employed tactics such as kettling to break up anti-lockdown demonstrations under the guise of enforcing coronavirus restrictions.

Since December, protests have all but ceased in the nation’s capital, with police threatening to issue attendees £10,000 fixed penalty notices for breaching the national lockdown.

In a major example of the effectiveness of the London Police’s anti-protest capabilities, 190 anti-lockdown protesters were arrested in one evening, ironically on November 5th, the anniversary of the failed Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament in 1605, known as Guy Fawkes Night in Britain.

The police have also been accused of having a political agenda in how they deal with different protests, with London mayoral candidate David Kurten telling Breitbart London during a December anti-lockdown rally that there is a “clear bias” in how Black Lives Matter ralliers were policed compared to anti-lockdown demos.

“You have Black Lives Matter protests with way more than six people that are allowed to go-ahead… but they come in and specifically target people who are just talking because they think we are against the lockdown and we might have opinions that may be unacceptable to those in Westminster,” Kurten said.

The disparity in policing has been apparent in London over the past year and was even admitted to by Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, who said in July that police took a hands-off approach to BLM demonstrations for fear of sparking “serious disorder”.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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