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Algemeen Dagblad, 18 March 2013: 'That loitering with drones is illegal'

"Police are turning to drones as an investigative tool because the unmanned aerial vehicles are useful in catching burglars and cannabis growers. At the same time, criticism is swelling because the drones have been deployed in utmost secrecy over dozens of places in our country.
Equipped with cameras, the light aircraft are a valuable weapon in the fight against crime. Aerial images are used to track live getaway cars, catch burglars, track cannabis farms or take aerial photos of crime scenes. With or without the help of cameras that can take thermal images. The devices can be launched out of the hand and barely make any noise. This often makes them more suitable than noisy police helicopters.

Add to that the fact that dike inspections can be carried out with it and that firefighters can detect fires on moorland fires like the one in Bergen. Reason enough for the police and justice department to be very proud of their new detection tool. They want to shout it from the rooftops, you would think. But nothing could be further from the truth. No investigation service wants to talk about it.

"We do not comment on this," it sounds at the national police. It is no different at the judiciary. Although spokesman Wim de Bruin explains why the judiciary is silent. This is a special means of investigation and we do not comment further on it in the interest of its use.


This keeps the mystery alive. Because the average Dutchman has no knowledge of this civilian deployment of a military asset, controlled from the ground. Thus, it is unclear how accurate filming can be and what happens to camera images.

Moreover, only after the deployment of a drone is it announced that the tool has been deployed. And then only with a publication in the Government Gazette, not the most reader-dense medium in the Netherlands.

What is known with this is the locations where the drones have flown since 2009, at least for the most part.

Announcements in the Government Gazette show that the planes have been deployed in a variety of places in our country, at least in 40 different places across the country. It involved at least 132 different flying days since 2009.

While the drug was initially used sporadically, in 2012 it was used on at least 82 days. This year, the counter stands at 32 days, in six different places.

In some locations, such as over the entire city of Amersfoort, a drone even flew for 20 consecutive days. Why, is mostly completely unclear.

The meagre explanations sometimes read that it was for `assistance in criminal investigations'. Then again, it was about the moorland fire near Bergen in 2010, and sometimes about troubled New Year's resolutions, such as in Culemborg, Veen and Aalburg in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The unrest has also reached political The Hague. D66 MP Gerard Schouw wants clarity from the minister. ,,We have no idea why these drones are taking to the air. I understand that it can be a handy tool, but there must be a legal basis. And it must be verifiable. Now we know virtually nothing. Is our privacy at stake, for instance? How closely are unsuspecting citizens being filmed? Who knows what these things are filming and doing."

Lawyer Vincent Böhre of foundation Foundation calls the deployment `illegal'. ''It is a form of secret camera surveillance and that is prohibited in this way under Dutch law,'' he says. ''Even according to European privacy laws, the government is exceeding its remit here. We are not ruling out a lawsuit against the government."

According to Rejo Zenger of privacy organisation Bits of Freedom, it is high time for clarity. With drones already in development that are no bigger than a fingernail, it must be on the table what the government uses drones for.

Enthusiasm among the police is high. The number of flights increased and a working group was set up at the national police to coordinate actions. Data from the Ministry of Defence show that sometimes almost 35,000 euros are allocated for a series of flights."

Source: Algemeen Dagblad 18 March 2013, p. 9. Also published in AD/Haagsche Courant, Rotterdams Dagblad, Groene Hart, De Dordtenaar, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Amersfoortse Courant and Rivierenland.