A fundamental shift, or a gimmick?

August 9, 2020

As the Lahore police adopt the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to fight crime, there are concerns that this could infringe upon the personal lives of the common people

Currently, the drones are being used “on an experimental basis,” to apprehend kite-flyers. (The photo has been doctored, to include an image of a drone).

Following in the footsteps of colleagues elsewhere in the world, the Lahore police have recently started using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, to fight crime.

Being the first among the civil law enforcement agencies in the country to use the technology, the city police claim to have succeeded already in nabbing around 180 violators of the kite-flying ban.

The use of the UAVs to track down anti-social elements and criminals is expected to expand progressively to a variety of police operations in the days to come.

However, while the bosses of Lahore police seem quite optimistic about the success of their initiative, human rights activists and lawyers are wary of its unintended consequences. The prospect of expanding the use of drones has raised concerns for them. While some them see it as a straightforward infringement upon the privacy of the hoi polloi and their civil rights, others are of the view that this technology should not have been adopted without thorough consideration.

Critics also aver that the technology will have serious repercussions for both the police and the citizens if not used vigilantly and dexterously. They aren’t ready to buy the claim that Lahore police have the expertise and capability required to handle it.

Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Zulfiqar Hameed calls the initiative as a revolutionary move. “I am confident that if utilised cautiously and skillfully, this technology will change the whole concept of policing and the way the police operate and carry out their day-to-day operations against both criminals and other anti-social elements,” he tells TNS.

The CCPO says that all technology comes with certain implications, “That is why, we are being extremely cautious and vigilant in dealing with the UAVs.

“Law enforcement authorities everywhere in the world are adopting drones, as these are proving incredibly useful in operations against criminals and lawbreakers,” he adds.

Do the city police have the expertise required to handle the new technology? — Photos by Rahat Dar

“With the introduction of the UAVs, I foresee a fundamental shift not only in the overall working of Lahore police but also in their operations in the near future.”

He says that the Lahore police have employed the UAVs “on an experimental basis,” to apprehend kite-flyers in various parts of the provincial metropolis. “Let different aspects of this [technology] unfold before us, and then we will, slowly but surely, start using drones in other operations also — be it surveillance or chasing suspects — with help from 3D reconstruction of the crime scenes.”

Hameed is certain that the use of drones will go a long way in enhancing speed, mobility and capability of the police in coping with criminals.

Advocate Assad Butt identifies two types of offences — cognizable and non-cognizable. “For cognizable offenses, the police do not need warrants to nab the accused: for instance, to arrest a fleeing criminal or recovering a pistol. For non-cognizable offences, however, they do need warrants. The use of UAVs will blur the line.”

Advocate General Ahmed Awais is of the view that the UAVs are exceedingly efficient. “I have seen drones hovering overhead for surveillance purposes in Dubai. Many other countries of the world have adopted this technology in their battle against anti-social elements and to maintain law and order.

“There should be no hitch in employing drones for further use,” he maintains. “A thorough deliberation should, however, be made before this technology becomes fully operational in the city.”

Awais says that he does not believe that the use of drones by law enforcement agencies violates people’s privacy.

The question arises whether this sort of technology can be adopted by any state organ without proper legislation.

According to Faisal Shahzad, the Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of Operations, who is credited with galvanising support for the initiative against violators of the kite-flying ban, so far 150-odd FIRs have been lodged using UAV pictures.

As to how the idea to use drones against kite-flyers was born, Shahzad says, “We wanted to deal with them [kite-flyers] with an iron hand, but at the same time we were keen to show restraint in order not to violate the sanctity of chaddar aur chaar diwaari.

“However, the process of the police entering a premise or a house, for that matter, to apprehend the suspects or accused is not simple. In order to reduce public complaints and enhance police mobility as well as accuracy in capturing the actual culprits swiftly, we thought of using drones on the pattern of some western countries.

“We had a drone lying useless for quite some time in the police store. So we put it to use after some modification,” he adds. “The results have been amazing.”

Having tested the drone’s utility, the city police are now looking forward to arranging five more UAVs, equipped with night vision.

On the other hand, lawyer and human rights activist Assad Abbas Butt anticipates rampant corruption once the police employ this technology on a wide scale. He calls for the removal of what he considers many a legal lacuna present in the use of drones by the police. “They [the police] cannot employ this technology unless the parliament passes a bill after thorough deliberation in this regard.

“The pros and cons of the technology should be carefully analysed, as some aspects of this technology could affect the personal lives of the citizens.”

He also believes that it is not yet clear as to who will operate these drones which obviously require expertise. “Misuse of the technology, like secretly videoing the private lives of people cannot be ruled out.”

Butt says there are two types of offences — cognizable and non-cognizable. “For cognizable offenses, the police do not need warrants to nab a suspect; for instance, to arrest a fleeing criminal or recovering a pistol. For non-cognizable offences, however, they do need warrants. The use of UAVs will blur the line.”

The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected]

Unmanned aerial vehicles: A fundamental shift, or a gimmick?