Police use of data from the sky: dissecting the human rights implications associated with deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in law enforcement in England and Wales

Paul, Angela (2024) Police use of data from the sky: dissecting the human rights implications associated with deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in law enforcement in England and Wales. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Police forces all over the world have been employing technologies in their law enforcement activities to guarantee that they are executed at a level of efficiency that surpasses human capacity. However, the use of surveillance technologies can impact the human rights of citizens, and it is thus important that there are appropriate human rights safeguards in place when law enforcement technologies are deployed. This thesis adds to the growing body of work at the nexus of law and technology by examining the legal framework around the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also referred to as drones, by police forces in England and Wales. The literature review for this thesis has found that there is a gap in existing research on what laws, policies, and police procedures are followed during drone deployments and what the human rights implications are. Consequently, this research problem has been addressed in this thesis through a literature-based socio-legal analysis and direct empirical research with police forces in England and Wales using Freedom of Information requests.

A socio-legal analysis of surveillance studies literature has established the unique human rights challenges of drone technologies, in particular how these implications manifest in situations of policing protests and large events and through the convergence of drones with biometric recognition technologies. Once these sociological issues were dissected, the thesis further combined them with the laws and policies that are applicable to drones. To this end, the laws, policies, and procedures that can help safeguard against any violations of privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and the right to be protected from discrimination were further investigated. These are the human rights obligations of law enforcement officials in England and Wales under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Equality Act 2010. Relevant caselaw from UK courts, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Union, and the USA has also been dissected in this study.

The subsequent empirical study resulted in a wealth of data directly from police forces on their drone deployments. As a result, the laws, policies, and procedures that are followed by police forces in England and Wales could be ascertained. This data was then compared with the socio-legal findings. This thesis utilises both a doctrinal and an empirical research methodology as part of a normative approach to law. Thus, there are also methodological lessons that can be learned from this research for future legal research. This includes the methods and challenges of conducting effective policing research.

Overall, this thesis has identified considerable gaps in the current framework for police drones, and therefore has advocated for clear guidance and oversight for police drones and for the mitigation of violations of human rights, data protection, and anti-discrimination that may result from drone deployments. This is especially important at a time when there is currently a gap in oversight for surveillance camera systems used by public officials. As a result, this thesis contributes to the broader debates on the human rights safeguards required for the responsible integration of intrusive policing technologies, setting the stage for future research and policy considerations in this rapidly evolving technological landscape. This is essential for reinforcing the policing by consent model and rebuilding public trust in the police.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: policing technology, drones, surveillance, artificial intelligence, privacy
Subjects: M200 Law by Topic
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Northumbria Law School
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 29 May 2024 11:55
Last Modified: 29 May 2024 11:57
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/51736

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