If the Australian Federal Police begins to employ unmanned aerial vehicles on a more widespread basis, the organisation may stream data captured by drones directly to its network instead of keeping it on the UAV where it could be vulnerable.
The organisation currently does not employ drones for covert surveillance. However, in a number of trial programs it has explored their potential use for crime-scene analysis, search and rescue and public safety operations. AFP Forensics in 2011 purchased a UAV that has been used to capture aerial imagery.
In a submission (PDF) to a parliamentary inquiry into the use of "unmanned air, maritime and land platforms" by the Australian Defence Force, the AFP said that there is "significant benefit in the use of unmanned platforms in support of policing operations".
However the submission noted that the AFP is aware of "potential vulnerabilities in the use of UAVs".
"In the event that the control of a UAV is lost or commandeered by an external controller, the information or imagery captured by the device could be accessed by the person capturing the craft," the submission stated.
"Although it is expected that the imagery would be unclassified information, it is possible that other, potentially classified information would be contained on the device. Although, it should be noted that generally, imagery obtained via a UAV is not classified material until such time as it becomes intelligence and is analysed. However, should the AFP move to a more regular use of UAVs it may be appropriate to stream data directly from the UAV to AFP networks."
"In this case, the AFP would implement controls to reduce the risk of compromise to Commonwealth information should the UAV’s security be compromised," the submission stated.
In addition to the AFP Forensics UAV, the AFP's Specialist Response Group Air Support Team in June 2013 began a three-phase trial of the use of drones. The AFP Forensics drone is capable of capturing high-defnition aerial imagery, including video, as well as low-light and infrared video.
When the Forensics UAV was purchased it was decided that it would only be used by the AFP in an "overt manner".
The use of unmanned platforms by the ADF could provide the AFP and ADF with opportunities to share imagery, the submission stated. However, a framework for the exchange of such imagery would most likely need to be legislated, the AFP said.
"Methodology and technical information exchange would also be beneficial in gaining experience with this emerging capability," the submission said.
The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee is due to report by 25 June 2015.
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