V-Festival Surveillance Drones

For those interested in the ‘spy in the sky’ surveillance drone, here are the notes from interviews and correspondence related to yesterday’s Times piece.

Fair play to Staffordshire police for responding very quickly to my FOIA request which I sent Thursday, August 23rd, 2007.

On Wednesday 29th I had a telephone call from Chief Inspector Peter Owen who was a pleasant fellow. “I assume you were at the V Festival,” he asked. I told him I wasn’t. He seemed surprised and asked why I was interested in the drone. He didn’t ask this in an interrogating way but nonetheless the law makes clear that FOI requests are purpose-blind which means public officials have no business making such enquiries unless it is for the purpose of helping the applicant get the information they need. There didn’t seem to be any thing more I could add to my original request. Mr Owen said the drone had been brought in as a sales demo. I got the impression he thought I was a rival drone vendor. I told him I was not and was mostly interested in the legality of the drone’s usage.

Email received Wed 29/08/2007 14:54

Dear Heather,

In relation to your Freedom of Information request;

The use of the micro-drone was authorised by Supt J Drake, the event commander. There was no cost to Staffordshire Police as its purpose was purely as a demonstration to prospective purchasers. M.W. Power is a UK distributor for the drone.

Other organisations who attended were the Fire & Ambulance Services, Staffordshire Civil Contingency Unit and the Festival promoters and security company.

M.W. Power demonstrated the micro-drone for approximately 2 hours on both Saturday and Sunday. Staffordshire Police had no direction or control over the demonstration but gave M.W. Power the criteria of the demonstration, that it should take place over the largely non-populated areas of the campsites, car parks and arena. No directed surveillance of any individuals took place.

A ‘Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act’ authority was in force in relation to CCTV cameras during the event with the necessary notices displayed.

The Surveillance Commissioner has been spoken to who agrees that the demonstration was lawful and the RIPA authority sufficient.

M.W. Power possess a risk assessment in relation to the drone’s use, however, Staffordshire Police have no copy of this.

As a result of this demonstration, Staffordshire Police have approximately nine or ten minutes of aerial footage which can be used during future planning meetings and briefings to staff. The footage contains no specific images of individuals.

No officers were used to control the drone, however, I am informed this was undertaken by one rep from M.W. Power.

As to the future, the use of a micro-drone on a regular basis, whether by purchase or hire, has not been considered by Staffordshire Police.

Hope the above helps.

Pete Owen
Chief Inspector
Tactical Support


I found the phrase “The Surveillance Commissioner has been spoken to” odd for its strange use of the passive tense. Had he really been spoken to? And if so on what date – before or after the trial?

I called the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner who told me I’d have to go through the Home Office press office (nightmare!). I did and in a few hours ‘Anna’ from the HO came back to say she’d spoken to the Surveillance Commissioner’s Office and “they haven’t had a conversation with anyone from Staffordshire Police.”


Anna (I should note that in the UK there is this ridiculous tradition of press officers refusing to give their full names and the press play along with this by attributing them anonymously as ‘spokesperson’) said that “it wouldn’t make sense” for the police to contact the Surveillance Commissioner because it wasn’t his responsibility. Instead it was the Information Commissioner.

Email sent Mon 03/09/2007 16:03

Hi Mr Owen,
In your answer you state that the “Surveillance Commissioner has been spoken to”. I have contacted the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner and they said they have not had any contact from Staffordshire Police in relation to this matter. Please could you clarify who approved the use of the surveillance drone in light of this information.

Heather Brooke


Email received Tue 04/09/2007 09:55


In relation to your last e-mail the use of the micro-drone was authorised by Supt Drake, the event commander.

In relation to its use the individual spoken to was at the Information Commissioners, this person being a David Evans. Since my last e-mail we have also spoken to Yvonne Ball at the Surviellance Commissioners. Hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

Pete Owen
Chief Inspector
Tactical Support
Staffordshire Police

A misunderstanding? In fact they told me completely incorrect information and only contacted the Surveillance Commissioner after they answered my request.

If even the police don’t know the proper procedures for getting surveillance approved then clearly the system isn’t working.

I also called the Information Commissioner’s office (or I should say their £300,000 per year private PR company). As usual after outlining my enquiry to one PR flunkie, another called me back to go through my questions. She said that no special permissions are needed for the flying cameras. “It’s just like putting someone in a police helicopter. They would have to comply with the CCTV code of practice, that’s all.” This code of practice is not worth the paper it’s written on by the way. To the rest of my questions she could not answer until after my deadline had passed but I reprint our correspondence here.

Email sent to ICO’s press office Mon 03/09/2007 16:25

Hi Helen,
You were going to send me the main points from the revised code of practice. My deadline is imminent so I’ll need it in the next 15 minutes.

Also could you confirm that the ICO conducts no inspections that CCTV operators are in compliance with this code. I believe last time we spoke you said that the regime is a self-reporting one.

Also has the ICO ever served any notices or prosecuted CCTV operators for non-compliance with the code?

To confirm – you said there is no special requirement for a mobile or flying cctv camera. They have exactly the same requirement as a stationary camera. Is this right because a mobile camera is much more invasive than a static camera?


Email received from ICO press office Mon 03/09/2007 17:00


The Information Commissioner expressed concerns about excessive surveillance and these were detailed in the ICO’s Surveillance Society report last year. We are concerned about how drones could be used for general overt surveillance and we are working with the Police and Home Office to ensure that we have an input into guidance on how police forces should use this technology.

You asked about inspections. As you may be aware, there are c. 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK; we do not inspect each appliance to check that the operator is complying with the Code of Practice. We provide the Code of Practice to help the industry comply with the rules. We receive very few complaints about CCTV systems, and those we receive are thoroughly investigated. We have not had to take enforcement action for any breaches of the Act connected to CCTV systems to date.

Flying CCTV cameras must comply with the Data Protection Act. I have summarised the main points from the CCTV Code of Practice below:

1. An organisation using CCTV should notify the ICO as a data controller
2. It should be made clear to members of the public when they are in an area where CCTV surveillance is being carried out; signs should be prominently placed
3. Images should not be kept for longer than is necessary to meet the purpose for recording them
4. Individuals can make a subject access request to obtain a copy of images of which they are the subject
5. Public Authorities may receive FOI requests for CCTV images. A member of staff should be responsible for responding to such requests
6. It is important to establish who has responsibility for control of the images captured by a CCTV system
7. If a third party processes the images on behalf of the controller, a written contract should clearly define its responsibilities
8. There should be clearly documented procedures for how the images should be handled. Responsibility for ensuring that these procedures are followed should be allocated to an appropriate named individual
9. The cameras should not be able to record conversations between members of the public. If a system comes

Kind regards,

Just in case you’re bamboozled by the bumpf – let’s be clear – that’s NO inspections and NO prosecutions during the entire time the Information Commissioner has regulated CCTV. That’s the level of protection from improper surveillance you can expect.

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