Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Micro drones and a techriminal justice system

Wormwood Scrubs, Holloway and Strangeways (now Manchester). Here they go. Is it really so strange to think that these institutions may become extinct?

According to The Guardian, The US Defence Advanced Research Project Agency's 'Nano Hummingbird', as seen above, has inspired the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) “to stimulate new lines of thought”. DSTL sent out research proposals last year for micro and nano unmanned aircraft systems that “operate inside buildings and within deep urban canyons”.

Whilst the priorities still seem militaristic, almost 5 years ago, The Telegraph reported that insect sized drones had been seen at anti-war protests in Washington and New York. A similar sighting was reported in 2004. 

We know that the US Defence Department has been funding research projects to create “cyborg moths”. These moths can be controlled remotely via computer chips that were implanted into moth pupae. In 2006, Flight were given exclusive access to CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where they saw a model of a drone that had been on display since 2003 in its museum. 

The UK police have been using drone technology for some time, with the first arrest using a drone reported over 2 years ago. But it is the use of micro drones and what they offer in terms of surveillance that is interesting UK police forces; freedom of information requests have recently been submitted to the police forces of Greater Manchester and West Midlands. It will be worth keeping an eye on their replies to the two requests numbered 3. 

As G4S expand their criminal justice remit from prisons to police stations, it is worth bearing in mind what impact this might have on a future UK criminal justice system. Given their financial and political muscle (and an inability to provide sufficient security staff), it may prove too attractive a proposition not to look at drones as a long-term solution for keeping an eye on suspects. They already use drone technology in Madagascar

Drone fly...or is it? (c) SidPix
If micro drones are to become a norm in the surveillance of suspects, will they also become a norm in the monitoring of detainees? And if the act of guarding a prisoner can be done remotely by a micro drones, then need this take place within what we now see as a prison setting? Will we see an expansion of house arrests and a gradual phasing out of state Victorian prisons, with private homes becoming public detention centres, ? 

Speculation on my part? In the first chapter of 1984, George Orwell wrote,

“In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and dashed away again with a curving flight”. "It was the police patrol, snooping into people's windows..." 

The technology was barely nascent at the time of his words. Right now, the technology is in place. And it will continue to improve. With public sector cuts and a rolling back of the state, the political and economic will is certainly in place. 

But perhaps most importantly for the criminal justice system, we currently associate drones with terrorism. And without wishing to sound all 'Team America', terrorists are bad people – for a wider discussion of terrorism, feel free to start here

If we accept, as we currently do, that those on the receiving end of military drones are criminals, then we are only a step away from assuming anyone in a drone's sight is a criminal. Charged, tried and sentenced by the state and its partners, this is a criminal justice system which presumes guilt over innocence. The technology may well have its benefits, but a techriminal justice system reliant on micro drones is a real concern. 

Good night. Don't let the bed bugs... 
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  1. Great post, very informative. I think a lot of people will find this very useful.Keep post in coming future as well!!!