Dutch authorities now allowed to film citizens using drones

The Dutch parliament has voted in favour of legislation that will allow drone surveillance where public safety is at risk.

The Dutch parliament has approved legislation that will allow drones to be used for video surveillance of the country's citizens.

Almost all political parties voted in favour of an amendment to the snappily named municipal act relating to the extension of the authority of the mayor to deploy camera surveillance, which had been proposed by two MPs, Ivo Opstelten and Ronald Plasterk.

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With the amendment now voted into law, in the near future, Dutch municipalities will be allowed to use mobile cameras, including drones, to monitor residents. 

According to the amendment, existing legislation relating to camera surveillance needed to be extended to allow law enforcement agencies to intervene in the event of persistent disturbances that that move between areas — for example, a riot spreading between neighbourhoods.

Under the new legislation, it's now up to the mayor of a city to decide what form of camera surveillance should be used: fixed, vehicle mounted, or airborne.

"Camera surveillance contributes to improved public safety and makes nuisance, violence and crime significantly more visible," a clarification document from Opstelten says.

However, the new legislation does not mean that fixed cameras are a thing of the past and only mobile cameras will be used from now on. "At so-called hot-spots (such as recreational areas), fixed camera surveillance is still an adequate measure and will remain in use," the document says.

The major change facilitated by the new legislation, is that municipal authorities, such as law enforcement officers, are no longer restricted in the use of mobile cameras, including drones.

Privacy issues

Of course, the change to legislation immediately sparked privacy concerns, although the new legislation does make a clear distinction between the use of mobile cameras and airborne cameras.

Mobile cameras, such as the head-mounted cameras currently used by Dutch police, can be used in to prevent public disorder; however, drones cannot.

Drones can only be used in situations where there is a threat to public safety. In addition, the area in which these drones may be used cannot exceed a certain size (how large an area has not yet been disclosed) and people entering an area where drone video surveillance is in operation, such as at a soccer stadium, must be notified by means of clear signage.

These aren't the drones you are looking for

However, the privacy issues do not end there. A recent document published by the parliament shows that the Netherlands cannot promise that it won't equip drones with facial recognition technology in the future.

The Scan Eagle, a drone purchased by the Dutch ministry of defence last year, is currently being used by the country's justice department to track down cannabis plantations and can easily be upgraded with facial recognition technology.

In the document, Opstelten, the Netherlands safety and justice minister, answers questions posed by political party D66 about the future of drone use in the Netherlands and leaves the door open to facial recognition in future: "Since I am not able to foresee all future purposes for which a Raven [another drone] or Scan Eagle will be used, I do not want to rule out the fact that there will come a time when they are fitted with cameras capable of facial recognition. Any violations of privacy resulting from that, are, in itself, not a valid reason to rule it out in advance."

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