Eight operators are using drones or unmanned aircraft in Ireland, new figures reveal. While the Defence Forces use Israeli-built drones for military purposes, the remotely piloted aircraft are increasingly also being used by civilian firms.
The best known use of drones is in Afghanistan or the border regions of Pakistan, where Predators and Reapers regularly attack Taliban militants.
But tens of thousands of smaller drones are being used for photography and aerial surveys around the world. “The European Aviation Safety Agency is in the process of introducing pan-European legislation to cover the operations of systems with a mass of 150kg or more,” an IAA spokesman said.
“Below this weight, operations will continue to be subject to national legislation.” The advanced technology used in drones, traditionally associated with military surveillance and targeting, has prompted concerns by privacy advocates, civil liberties groups and legislators about possible misuse and the expansion of the surveillance state.
Once limited to war zones and books, small unmanned aircraft with video capability are readily available and can be purchased in toy shops or over the internet. The technical sophistication and ability of such craft to stay airborne for lengthy periods of time combined with the ability to mount general surveillance of the population could be used to infringe on fundamental privacy rights, opponents say.
With drones the size of hummingbirds already available new capabilities are emerging all the time.
High-quality camera equipment capable of advanced thermal and infra-red imaging can see through walls and the technology exists for them to use facial recognition technology to track individuals based on their physical attributes.
Not only is video capture technology developing at lightning pace but the ability to keep drones airborne for longer is also improving. Lockheed Martin has developed a drone called the Stalker which can be powered from the ground by laser, allowing it in excess of 48 hours continuous flight.
Some have also predicted that they could be used to carry weaponised systems such as tasers or more lethal equipment.Concerns about how the technology is used have not been restricted to privacy or civil liberties advocates. The need to legislate against misuse of the technology was alluded to by the public policy arm of the US Congress. In a report published last month the Congressional Research Service (CRS) predicts that the increased use of drones could lead to new crimes such as “drone stalking” or “drone trespassing”.