Transparency and government drones policy

The APPG has settled its appeal to the Information Rights Tribunal for information from the Cross-Government Working Group on ‘Remotely Piloted Air Systems’ (‘the Group’) and agreed ‘arrangements for increased transparency’ on the part of the Group. The APPG welcomes the arrangements, described as a ‘culture shift’ in the operation and outlook of the Group, which is tasked with coordinating Cross-Government RPAS-related activities and developing a Cross-Government strategy on drone use in UK airspace. The arrangements are:

  1. The Coordinator will be invited to participate in a new Sciencewise ‘Oversight Board’ with responsibility for shaping public dialogue on the use of drones in the UK;
  2. One of the Group Chairs (Head of Unmanned Systems, MOD, and Head of UK Aviation Safety, DfT) will brief a representative of the APPG following each Group meeting to provide meeting summaries, which may be shared with the public;
  3. The Chairs will collate and share a list of all Departmental policies concerning drone use, with web links for members and the public, by 31 July;
  4. The Chairs will try and facilitate the APPG’s request that Group members disclose information about current drone use by Government Departments and agents, with a view to sharing with APPG and public, although this is strictly beyond the remit of the Group. This would mirror the collation of information on drone use by individual police forces by the new Police Drones Commission headed by Sussex Police.

The APPG Grounds of Appeal set out the background to the claim for Group minutes. The consent order and letter attachment is here. The new arrangements featured in the optimistic Independent article here. It is hoped that the APPG will be able to publish items 2-4 above over the summer recess. This should enable the APPG and public to participate meaningfully in the proposed public consultation on safety, privacy, data protection and oversight. APPG Chair Tom Watson said:

‘As the Government threatens to cut back public access to information, this case shows the value of the Freedom of Information Act and the need for more open government. It’s good news for all those who have been calling for transparency, accountability and public dialogue on Government use and plans for drones’.

The APPG’s transparency push has no doubt been helped by the recent Article 29 Data Protection Working Party’s ‘Opinion on the Privacy and Data Protection Issues relating to the Utilisation of Drones’. The Opinion identifies privacy risks, provides guidelines applying data protection rules and gives recommendations to national policy makers for the strengthening of a framework that guarantees respect for all fundamental rights.

Meanwhile, 25 MPs have signed Early Day Motion 152 calling for a distinct and overarching policy on military drone use as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review; and 3 APPG Officers have asked the DPP to consider issuing Guidance on the law, policy and procedure concerning the investigation into possible complicity in US drone strikes and targeted killing outside the traditional battlefield. Alice Ross, formerly of TBIJ, covered the request in the Guardian here. The request followed reports of new GCHQ documents seen by the Guardian and reviewed by Jemima Stratford QC. Vice-Chair David Davis said:

The time has come for the DPP to consider and issue clear guidance on the law, policy and procedure concerning the investigation of complicity into extraterritorial targeted killing. The policy vacuum we have at the moment is neither judicial, wise nor democratically accountable.’

Treasurer Richard Burgon added:

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones is considering a new inquiry into how the UK works with the US in relation to the use of drones.


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