Terrorists, paparazzi, poachers: Report flags nefarious use of drones

A rise in the use of drones in the UK over the next 20 years raises "significant safety, security, and privacy concerns", according to a new report from the University of Birmingham Policy Commission, which highlighted drone use by terror groups as a potential threat.

Public events could be targeted by drones controlled by terror cells, the report said, and called for "urgent" measures to protect British aerospace and privacy.

It also acknowledged the "significant benefits" that drones could bring to the UK's security and economy.

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The study of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) was led by Sir David Omand, a former head of the UK's intelligence centre, GCHQ.

According to the report, "The security threat posed by individuals misusing RPA is a serious one, whether for criminal or terrorist purposes... more thought needs to be given to their employment for malign purposes in the domestic environment."

"Vulnerable targets might be hardened to withstand attack from outside, but it is entirely possible that in a public space like a shopping centre or sporting stadium, an attack could be launched from within.

"Crowds at sporting events or rallies could be vulnerable in a similar way if a future terrorist group were to look for means of dispersing chemical or biological agents.

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"While such a scenario has so far not posed a real danger to UK citizens... it is a threat that the UK authorities took seriously during the 2012 Olympics."

Drones also make "ideal lookouts for burglars, train robbers and poachers", read the Security Impact of Drones report.

Similarly, the paparazzi could use lightweight, commercial RPAs as their "weapon of choice" to further infiltrate the private lives of celebrities, it said.

Police forces in the West Midlands, Wiltshire, Essex, Staffordshire and Merseyside are in possession of drones for surveillance, and some have been used for this purpose. Guidelines that govern how and when they can be used must be looked into, the report said. At the time of writing, drones under 20kg can be used within line of site of the operator and with permission of the Civil Aviation Authority.

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