Ian Mulgrew: Police forces need to address privacy concerns surrounding drone use


The RCMP and other Canadian police forces are using aerial drones while public discussion about the rules that should govern them lags.

In the last few years, these unmanned aerial vehicles — so-called “eyes in the sky” — have been conscripted for everything from traffic control and tactical surveillance to searching for isolated marijuana grow-ops.

RCMP Cpl. Robert McDonald says the force has four units deployed in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and in the southeast and northern areas of the province.

Unlike costly-to-purchase, expensive-to-operate aircraft and helicopters, these suitcase-sized devices controlled from a computer screen can be purchased for the price of a luxury car, and are cheap to fly.

There are a variety of models, including some that can hover at invisible heights for long periods of time collecting high-definition live-stream images, sound, thermal-images, engage in more specialized data collection, or even be equipped with firepower.

The RCMP has a score or so in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Northwest Territories.

These drones provide police with an incredible new tool — one that can assist in accident reconstructions, provide SWAT teams with live intelligence on potential threats, and supply invaluable support in search and rescue operations over rugged terrain.

In May, for example, the Mounties in Saskatchewan credited a drone equipped with an infrared camera with finding an injured and missing 25-year-old man who suffered a head injury in a car crash and wandered far away from the scene.

Last year, McDonald said, the force used drones in this province to fly over five accident scenes, but none so far this year.

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