Ethical and Legal Aspects Pertaining to law Enforcement use of Drones


  • Murdoch Watney University of Johannesburg, South Africa



police drones, law enforcement use of drones, legal and ethical aspects domestic aerial policing, aerial drone police surveillance, constitutional impact of police drones usage


Law enforcement is an information-based activity. The use of drones (also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) for policing may be beneficial as an aerial surveillance tool in gathering information pertaining to crime prevention, detection and /or investigation which are conducted in the interest of national security. In most instances, the law enforcement use of drones for purposes of search and rescue, crime scene investigation and hostage situations are not controversial. However, police use of drones for crowd monitoring and protests may be contentious as it may violate various human rights such as the right to privacy which includes data protection, free speech, right to protest and freedom of movement. These rights must be balanced against public safety. The discussion focuses on identifying ethical and legal concerns relating to the use of drones by the police and how these concerns should be addressed. It highlights that the danger is not the drone technology itself, but how it is used and the manner in which the police deal with, process and act upon information gathered, in order to prevent or control crime. The use of drone technology for surveillance impacts on human rights. There is a risk that surveillance may manifest itself in governmental domination and power if no safeguards are in place to curtail pervasive surveillance. It should be established whether domestic drone policing is in general so intrusive that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits of using it for public safety purposes. The manner in which these issues are addressed may serve as a guideline to countries who are considering the use of drones for law enforcement.