Police in England and Wales are considering using drone-mounted cameras that could film high-quality live footage from 1,500ft (457 metres) away, raising concerns among civil liberties campaigners.
The National Police Air Service (NPAS), which provides air support to 46 police forces, has asked private companies for information about systems that offer both “airborne imaging” and “air to ground communication”.
The callout, on a government outsourcing website, states: “The imaging systems are intended for use on BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) remotely piloted aircraft systems: ‘drones’.”
The NPAS told potential bidders that the systems should be capable of transmitting live, high-quality images even in low light, using “electro-optical” or “infra-red” systems. It said this would enable officers to pick out detail such as “facial features”, as well as clothing and vehicle registration plates, at a distance of between 500ft and 1,500ft.
The cameras should be able to operate on a drone that stays in the air for up to four hours and flies up to 50km (31 miles) from the base station from which they are controlled, the NPAS said.
Drones have been used by English and Welsh police forces, including the Met, which said in March that they had been deployed to survey crime scenes and provide live footage of operations.
But the NPAS call for information indicates plans for a national rollout using updated technology. This has raised concerns among civil liberties campaigners about issues including privacy, the role of private companies in state surveillance and the potential misuse of such technology to target legitimate protesters.