Attack of the Drones: Is Growing Technology an Unpoliceable Threat?


By Philip Avery, Managing Director of Navtech Radar

There’s no denying it, drones are here to stay. Once limited to military use, drones are now easily accessible to anyone and could easily fall into the wrong hands. In today’s current climate of increased national threats, we need to work fast to keep up with modern risks. However, creating new, complicated laws open to misinterpretation or enforcing a complete ban on privately owned drones seem like luddite solutions that undermine the potential of innovative technology. We need to work with technology, not against it, in order to ensure public safety and security.

Increasing Legislation

The media is regularly reporting the misuse of drones – drones are used to smuggle illicit goods into prisons, infiltrate high security sites, and cause immense disruption and damage at airports. With the technology developing at a rapid pace, drones are getting more sophisticated every day. In response to the recent commotion at Gatwick, there have been calls to review the legislation around drones. But to what end? If, as recommended by the British Airline Pilots’ Association, compulsory registration of drone users is implemented, then police will be able to track down and prosecute irresponsible drone operators. However, this may simply increase the illegal purchase of drones, which will not be registered and cannot be tracked. Toughening up on prosecution is one thing, but this will not necessarily prevent the misuse from happening in the first place – and all the damage, disruption and possible danger to lives that it causes.

Alternatively, there has been a push to ban privately-owned consumer drones outright. This would prevent the need for complex, potentially ambiguous legislation. However, the market for drones will undoubtedly continue to grow as the technology improves and the costs decrease. Banning drones would drive this lucrative market underground, and the economy would take the hit. indeed, it feels draconian and technophobic to ban an innovative new product simply because it is at risk of being abused – following that logical, surely we should also ban smartphones and the internet.

Embrace Technology as the Solution

Rather than trying to suppress technology for fear of it getting out of control, we need to keep apace with innovation and embrace technology as the solution. The answer is to fight technology with technology. Traditional security systems are struggling to keep up with the growing pervasiveness of drones. Perimeter fencing and security guards are no longer sufficient in protecting against intrusion. However, there is no reason why security systems cannot scan the sky for threats as well as the ground. Currently, systems that claim to be able to detect drones are either unreliable or prohibitively expensive, but the technology is rapidly developing. Over time, the more advanced security systems are destined to come down to a price point that is commercially accessible. By investing resource into the development of advanced sensors that can accurately detect drones as they approach critical areas (such as airports and prisons), the popularity of drones would no longer pose a threat to security.

The growing prevalence of drones should not be a cause for alarm and needless red tape, so long as we have the means to prevent their misuse. By investing in research and development, and looking towards alternative technologies, we can harness technology and create accurate security systems that are just as commercially accessible as the drones. If every airport, prison and, indeed, any household that wanted one, could be equipped with a highly effective drone detection system, we could prevent the misuse of drones without the need to stifle the technology. We shouldn’t repress technological innovation but support the development of mechanisms that can work in parallel to ensure that technology is used is a safe, controllable way.