Drone Technology: Security Threats and Benefits for Police, Focus of INTERPOL Forum

The drone whizzed over the heads of the crowd seated in the auditorium of the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) in Singapore, performing aerial manoeuvres displaying its ability to operate in enclosed indoor spaces.

A second demonstration showcased drones designed for use in outdoor spaces, highlighting the benefits and also challenges of deploying such technology in public areas.

Drone technology was front and centre at the IGCI during the Drone Expert Forum, a three-day (28-30 August) conference which brought together nearly 100 experts from law enforcement, academia and private industry to demonstrate how drones can at the same time be a threat, particularly for critical infrastructure, a tool and source of evidence for police worldwide.

Organized by the INTERPOL Innovation Centre and Counter-Terrorism unit with the support of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Netherlands Police, the conference was a first step towards developing the global capacity to deal with the emerging threat posed by ‘unmanned aerial systems’ known as drones.

To this end, continued engagement with experts in the field will assist INTERPOL in facilitating information exchange, as well as developing a set of guidelines and operational procedures for first responders to follow in the event of a drone incident, and to assist forensic examiners in extracting data from drones to support investigations.

“The impact of drones on law enforcement activities around the world continues to increase. Daily, I hear of new agencies considering how to use them in law enforcement activities; weekly, I hear of agencies receiving them in connection with active investigations; and it seems that every month a new twist on the drone threat emerges,” said Steve Watson, Chief Executive Officer of VTO Labs, who gave the keynote address.

“The INTERPOL Drone Expert Forum has assembled a world-class group of experts and practitioners on the topic of drones and their intersection with law enforcement activities. INTERPOL continues to find ways to exercise leadership and inspiration on new technology topics,” he concluded.

Drones as a threat

The potential use of drones in a terrorist incident, or attack against a critical infrastructure and soft targets is a growing concern for law enforcement as the availability of drone technology becomes more widespread globally. As drones become less expensive and their potential applications continue to expand, it is expected that countries will witness an increase and evolution of this threat.

Recent examples include terrorist groups using drones in surveillance activities and delivering chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials in conflict zones, and an environmental group which repurposed a hobby drone to enter the secure airspace of a nuclear site and crash into a building highlighted the current reality of the threat posed by the illicit use of drones.

In this respect, experts from the FBI, NATO, the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, national police agencies and the private sector underscored the need for a coordinated global law enforcement response which combines the expertise and developments made by various countries, military agencies and private industry to counter the threats posed by the nefarious use of drones.

“The rising threat of terrorist groups using drones to attack critical infrastructure and soft targets has created a pressing need for the global law enforcement community to exchange information and share best practices. INTERPOL is committed to assisting its member countries protect their critical infrastructure by raising awareness, sharing best practices and facilitating information exchange on terrorist incidents involving drones,” said INTERPOL’s Director of Counter Terrorism, Patrick Stevens.

A tool for police

While drones can be dangerous in the wrong hands, they are also a valuable tool for law enforcement. Participants heard how drones can be used by police to reconstruct a crime scene by using a drone to take pictures of the site from all angles, then feeding the data into a 3D printer.

Drones can also be used by law enforcement to conduct surveillance, assist with traffic accident investigations, survey natural disaster sites and more.

The conversion of drones and artificial intelligence (AI) technology offers additional benefits to enhance current police capabilities, from increasing officer safety and productivity to livestreaming of incidents.

A source of evidence

Drones can also be a significant source of evidence to support investigations and prosecutions. Analysis of digital data such as speed, height, GPS coordinates and flight records can reveal information about the criminals involved, while physical data such as fingerprints and DNA can also be present.

Through further development of these capabilities, INTERPOL seeks to support member countries in increasing information sharing on drone incidents and developing their abilities to conduct effective forensic examinations of seized drones.

“Different countries view drone technology in different ways – some define drones as a weapon, while others categorize them similarly to airplanes. On top of that, police are starting to use drones as a tool in their daily operational work,” said Anita Hazenberg, Director of the INTERPOL Innovation Centre, “This conference has helped to bridge these different perceptions, identify similarities and exchange best practices amongst the global community on how to simultaneously address drones as a threat, tool and source of evidence in police investigations.”

The conference builds upon the outcomes of INTERPOL’s Drone Working Group meetings in late 2017 and early 2018, which laid the foundation for the gathering of knowledge on the challenges and opportunities drones pose for the law enforcement community.

Police innovation and technology will also be high on the agenda of the INTERPOL General Assembly session in Dubai in November.

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