Criminalise British drone fliers, snarl MPs amid crackdown demands

Geoblocking, weaponisation and more in Parliamentary committee's sights


The British government should make it a crime to disable geofencing and electronic conspicuity on one’s drone, according to MPs from a parliamentary committee looking at future drone regulation.

In a report issued today, Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee (STC) demanded the government issue a White Paper (not a whitepaper but the capitalised version, which is a formal policy proposal) setting out a raft of new crimes intended to stop people from flying small drones.

Within that White Paper, said the STC, ought to be plans for criminalising the “weaponisation” of drones, as well as making it a criminal offence not to register one’s craft with the government.

Other new criminal offences to be aimed at drone users, according to the MPs, should include the capturing of “an individual’s data without their consent”

Despite well-founded criticism of the Civil Aviation Authority over its plans to build a moneymaking database for registering drone users, the MPs also thought it would be clever to call for “compulsory renewal” of drone operators’ licences* “to ensure that they are up-to-date with technology advances and legislative changes”.

It also called for all drones, including new and existing ones, to be electronically conspicuous within two years. Given how small many drones are, and how low their useful payloads are, this is likely to cause more economic harm to the current drone sector, particularly craft incapable of carrying current aviation-spec conspicuity tech such as ADS-B Out transmitters or FLARM.

The small commercial drone sector is likely to interpret the STC’s list of demands as a hostile government imposing more regulatory and financial burdens in the hope of snuffing them out for good.

At the start of the year government ministers promised a crackdown on families playing with toy drones in their gardens if they happened to live near an airport, by criminalising the flying of any drone within three miles of a licensed aerodrome.

The Drones Bill, long awaited, has still not appeared before Parliament. With officials making accidental slips of the tongue and branding drone fliers as “clueless, careless or criminal”, it is small wonder that the nascent industry feels put-upon. ®

Dronenotes

The report also insists on citing an economic benefit figure of £42bn, which was plucked out of thin air forecast by Pricewaterhousecooper analysts. As previously reported by The Register, this would make the UK drone industry bigger than the combined manufacturing sectors of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and southwest England, and is therefore total nonsense. Not that this stops people who should know better from doing it.

* Technically drone fliers’ licences are called Permissions for Commerical Work, or PfCOs. But as it looks like a licence and quacks like a licence...

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