Monday, February 25, 2013

The police UAV clusterfuck

Back in December, we learned that the New Zealand police had bought themselves a spy-drone, a 2.8m, single-camera, 5kg RQ-84Z AreoHawk. Now, thanks to Pundit's David Beatson, we learn that they can't actually do anything with their new toy, and that their policy and planning for it is a total clusterfuck:

New Zealand Police seem to have jumped into the deep-end with their decision to buy an un-manned aerial vehicle. You’d expect them to try and specify before they buy. But, no. They’ve purchased their UAV drone before deciding what they want to do with it.

Police briefing notes - obtained as a result of an Official Information request - say that they are “starting an evaluation of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. This evaluation is at very early stages and no decisions have been made yet about their use.”

The notes also say the police have not trained any staff to operate their drone, which is probably just as well because another OIA request to the Civil Aviation Authority confirms that the police do not actually have the required authorization to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle. Presumably, the drone they have purchased is sitting in someone’s office like a very big kid’s toy while their evaluation proceeds in flightless mode.

It gets better: they claim to have no material on the surveillance functions they want the drone to carry out, and they have no operations manual or policy on its use. Its almost as if they bought the thing because they wanted to keep up with the cool kids, before they'd really thought about it. Sadly, Beatson doesn't get an estimate of how much money they've wasted in the process - but it is something Parliament should really look into in their annual financial review.

Beatson's piece also displays all the usual police pathologies about answering OIA requests. They won't say what sort of drone they have - its been publicly reported. They pretend that no information is held because no formal decision has been made (but police have presumably discussed it, and the information in their heads is legally held by the agency). As usual, they do not regard themselves as accountable to the public, or to the law.