Words By: Dharmendra Toor - Barrister - 36 Tech Barristers
Recent media attention surrounding the use of drone technology to commit criminal acts provides the greatest example of why authorities need to be alert to this new and developing area.
Prisons provide the best example. Drones have caught the media’s negative stare with drones described as a ‘game changer’ for the common drug dealer. Drugs and phones are the most sought after commodities behind bars; drugs acquire the status of gold bullion whilst phones allow the shrewd criminal to manage and coordinate illicit affairs remotely. In December 2017, a gang of 10 who smuggled phones and drugs into prison were handed lengthy prison sentences as reported by the BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42341416.
They were responsible for smuggling £1million of these illicit items into prison using drones. It was established that the group had conducted some 49 drone flights, although the figure could be much higher. It was due to the good fortune of wildlife cameras set up in and around HMP Hewell, Worcestershire, that these actions were brought to justice.
Importantly, the drone pilot received a sentence in excess of 6 years for his role.
As of March this year, further individuals / gangs have been charged with large-scale smuggling of drugs and phones into prisons using drone technology. The challenge for prison authorities should not be underestimated. Cuts to prison staff and budgets in recent years has resulted in an overstretched prison system falling below international standards. Drug abuse has already reached epidemic proportions, and to then cope with a more sophisticated, novel and covert mechanism of drug trafficking leaves Prison Governors with huge worries. For good reason.
Indeed, this criminal and highly profitable means for smuggling drugs and phones into prisons, was first successfully used in Mexico, perhaps unsurprisingly by the drug cartels. So, the phrase ‘Narco-Drones’ was coined.
Aside from this new method of drug trafficking, there are other, more unsophisticated means by which drones could conflict criminal law. Being equipped with a camera, both mobile and able to record, may be used in an array of criminal ways. This could lead to the commission of criminal offences such as public nuisance, harassment, public order, and more nefariously, voyeurism (section 67 Sexual Offences Act 2003).
A simple and perhaps ironic solution is to use more drones in law enforcement.