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We don't live in a police state, but we are going to be watched by aerial drones

Extraordinary plans by police in the UK to use unmanned spy drones to monitor antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers

Thomas Ash
25 January 2010

Critics of Labour's record on civil rights are sometimes accused of hysteria when they talk of Britain becoming a 'police state'. This time last year, the day before the Convention on Modern Liberty, Jack Straw felt it necessary to write an op-ed for the Guardian entitled "Our record isn't perfect. But talk of a police state is daft". And yes, we can grant that Britain is not a police state of the sort that existed in countries like East Germany, and still does in North Korea and Cuba, although this surely counts as damning with faint praise. However Straw's case is not helped by stories like the following (which I found on on the blog of American journalist Kevin Drum, who is struck by its similarity to a current story-line in 24):

Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the "routine" monitoring of antisocial motorists, ­protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.

The arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which produces a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for war zones, is adapting the military-style planes for a consortium of government agencies led by Kent police.

....Five other police forces have signed up to the scheme, which is considered a pilot preceding the countrywide adoption of the technology for "surveillance, monitoring and evidence gathering". The partnership's stated mission is to introduce drones "into the routine work of the police, border authorities and other government agencies" across the UK.

Sometimes it is hard to avoid the suspicion that the powers that be are just trying to see how many elements of the repressive dystopias of recent science fiction they can imitate without anyone complaining.

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