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WEEKEND WEB: Up to us to use new tech responsibly

Launch of Operation Galileo - use of drone
Launch of Operation Galileo - use of drone

MP for South Holland and The Deepings, JOHN HAYES, writes his weekly column.

Ministers address the House of Commons from the Despatch Box regularly.

Such Oral Statements are a means by which the Government responds to notable events, so keeping Parliament abreast of its work and, in turn, by which Parliament can hold Government to account.

Less well known, though no less important, are Written Statements, made almost every day, allowing Ministers to update both Houses on the detail of their plans.

I submitted such a statement last week, setting out measures to provide an effective legal framework for drones – guaranteeing their safe, responsible use, without suppressing the potential benefits of this new technology.

Drones have the capacity to be an important tool for the emergency services. Some police, fire and rescue services already use drones in their work to save lives.

They are also being used to inspect and maintain key national transport infrastructure, reducing the risk of accidents and driving productivity and efficiency.

Following the Grenfell Tower inferno, drones were used to inspect the block’s upper floors, which fire damage had made impossible to access by other means.

Nonetheless, there are obvious risks to safety, security and privacy from these devices.

Following a consultation, the Government is committed to reviewing the powers at the disposal of the police and other agencies. In particular, gaps in the current regulations are presenting the police with unnecessary problems when investigating crimes.

To remove these obstacles, in the coming months, I shall be considering new police powers requiring drone users to produce registration documents on request and giving officers the ability to ground, seize and retain a drone’s components where there is reasonable suspicion that it has been involved in an offence.

Existing laws connected with drones – the Air Navigation Order 2016, for instance, which stipulates that “a person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property” – will need to be reviewed to make sure that they remain fit for purpose. In new circumstances, the law must keep pace with change.

But, as Shakespeare wisely advised in Henry V, “All things are ready if our minds be so.”

Government must meet the challenges which lay ahead, mindful that the application of scientific developments is not necessarily desirable. Technology has no implicit ethic, so it is for mankind to harness for all our benefits the changes it brings.


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