Mounties put hundreds of eyes in the sky with expanding drone fleet

Mounties put hundreds of eyes in the sky with expanding drone fleet

OTTAWA — The RCMP has assembled a fleet of more than 200 flying drones — eyes in the sky that officers use for everything from international border investigations to protecting VIP visitors, newly disclosed records show.

The compact airborne devices are equipped with tools including video cameras and thermal-image detectors, and the Mounties are looking into more advanced applications that can help generate three-dimensional pictures.

An RCMP privacy assessment of the budding technology says the force is committed to protecting any personal information the drones collect and that officers strive to comply with federal laws.

But one privacy expert notes the assessment, recently released under the Access to Information Act, was drafted in 2017 — seven years after the RCMP’s first drone was used in Saskatchewan to help reconstruct traffic collisions.

The RCMP should not have waited the better part of a decade before turning its mind to the privacy effects of “what is obviously a surveillance technology,” said Micheal Vonn of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

The assessment provides few details about the technical capabilities of the cameras attached to the drones and how the Mounties actually use the images they capture, she added.

There are legitimate policing uses for drones but also potentially invasive ones, such as taking photos of faces or licence plates at public events so they can be electronically run against images in databases, she said.

“Just because it flies doesn’t mean we should worry. Just because it has a camera doesn’t mean we should worry,” Vonn said. “The question is, what can the camera do?”

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