Drones in the service of security: common sense and transparency must prevail


The bill on comprehensive security examined by the government at the end of November 2020 intends to provide a framework for the use of drones for surveillance situations. Although this is not new, it had hitherto remained marginal and was not governed by any particular rule apart from those applicable to civil aircraft. Above all, it did not define what type of drone to use, at the risk of inadequate use of devices originally designed for leisure activities, and / or from manufacturers, mostly Asian, suspected of not ensuring strict control of the confidentiality of the data collected.

The development of the use of drones in surveillance is inevitable. Indeed, they offer unprecedented and multiple possibilities to strengthen security and safety, public or private. In order to compensate for possible overflows, several provisions are now planned to provide a legal framework responding to questions of respect for privacy.. However, it seems just as necessary to finally define strictly the types of drones accredited to carry out surveillance missions, also taking into account national security requirements.

The “drone system” is a mobile technology which allows “seen from above” continuous 360 ° surveillance, and which does not suffer from any interruption linked to human activity (holidays, sick leave, etc.). The capture, recording and transmission of images are permitted in various cases including the security of gatherings of people on public roads or in public places (demonstrations), prevention of acts of terrorism, surveillance of coasts and border areas or the observation of offenses and the prosecution of their perpetrators by collecting evidence.

Why speak of a “drone system” and not just a “drone”? The “drone” in itself is a simple load carrier, made up of mechanical parts, a battery and an autopilot allowing it to navigate and evolve in space, which has the ability to fly in such a way. autonomous, without anyone on board. It integrates two types of loads: electronic components and high-tech software application supports (hard disks) which will allow it to navigate, communicate with the ground, analyze data in real time, store them. and pass them on. Payloads, finally, which are sensors of various kinds: optical, infrared, thermal, etc.

It is therefore easy to understand that the crucial point of using a drone system that respects the rules of privacy and the preservation of the individual right to image rights depends on two essential factors. The first is that the data (images) captured, or even recorded by drone systems must be able to be consulted only by persons belonging to qualified structures, police and gendarmerie services, sworn personnel. The second lies in the ability at any time, on simple request, to be able to access the source codes of electronic components and software, in order to ensure their perfect consistency with the missions to be carried out, so as also to integrate additional functions. under Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as pattern recognition, blurring, etc.

Upstream, the designer of the drone system must ensure that the products he offers comply with the requirements of the civil air authority, in reality of each authority in each of the countries where the system will be operated. He must also be able to prove that his equipment is capable of operating in “degraded mode” in order to prevent any incident: this is called “on-board safety”. Particular attention must be paid to this type of use in order to ensure that the drone can, in the event of an incident, land without causing harm to others. Finally, it is his responsibility to verify the exemplary nature of the structure that uses its equipment by carefully selecting its customers, and not to put this technology in the hands of just anyone! Indeed, the drone can, like many devices, if it ends up in “bad hands”, be misused. The drone companies must therefore be able to qualify their customers as much as possible, but also to train future users in the responsible use of these technologies.

Very recently, the American authorities decided to ban DJI drones from their territory, in a very general way beyond the only applications in the surveillance and security sector. The crucible of this decision, basically, lies in the impossibility of unlocking and accessing the source codes of on-board electronic and computer equipment, which is moreover a constant in all Chinese components, inexorably leading to legitimate suspicion. Therefore, what is the policy to follow for the drone players, faced with this major development resulting from a country which often “sets the tone” as a prelude to international decisions? It is difficult to give a categorical answer, as the strategies can be so different. Thus, taking only the example of two French companies listed on the Paris stock exchange, whose information is public, the positioning is diametrically opposed: Delta Drone made the bet of systems entirely designed, manufactured and assembled in France (except some non-critical items such as motors). Conversely, Drone Volt indicates in its latest Universal Registration Document that 90% of the components of its drones come from China.

The drone is a technology of the future that comes up against many problems related to civil liberties and security, not just as a sector of activity. It is therefore essential to remember that the drone is above all a tool, the proper use of which depends entirely on its user. While the use of a surveillance drone ensures the protection and safety of individuals in many circumstances while offering speed of implementation and maneuverability, regulations must evolve and focus on its proper use and on the definition of accredited systems.

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