Monday, October 15, 2007

Aerial urban surveillance

In my article of 29 August 2007 entitled Sydney skies [display], I criticized Australia's decision to place a jet fighter above the city during the APEC gathering. Funnily enough, my scenario about the possibility of an innocent private aircraft getting blasted out of the sky by this fighter almost became a reality.

Later, in my article of 6 September 2007 entitled Stadiums [display], I mentioned the vast security resources that French authorities planned to use during the Rugby World Cup.

It was only yesterday, on TV, that we had a closeup presentation of one of these resources, used in the sky at Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris. Apparently there's a tiny remote-controlled aircraft floating around constantly in the air above the great stadium, and it's video camera can see everything that's happening on the ground. In a control room, several police specialists control the movements of the robot aircraft, and watch the images it provides on a large screen on the wall. The images are so precise that you can easily distinguish human individuals, including groups of people who might be up to mischief.

The female police officer whose job consisted of "flying" the tiny noiseless aircraft explained that, if nobody gets upset about this surveillance method, it's primarily because it's invisible. She added: "Most modern police departments throughout the world are now using this technique." Hearing this, I pricked up my ears. Was the police department in Sydney actually using this approach during the APEC? If so, was the publicity about the jet fighter in Sydney's skies simply a strategy to make people forget about the presence of tiny robot aircraft equipped with video cameras? Was the ban on all other aircraft over Sydney designed to make sure that the little robotic devices would be free to glide around in an airspace free of turbulence and obstacles?

If ever it so happens that Sydney is not yet aware of this new robotic technology, then it might be a good idea if a few Australian police delegates were to visit France, at the end of the rugby matches, to see what it's all about. In making this suggestion, I'm thinking above all of the safety of private pilots wishing to take their family or friends on future joy flights over the Sydney coastline or the Blue Mountains, while unaware that the local police are protecting Important Visitors and searching for potential Troublemakers and Dangerous Terrorists. It would be so much less messy to collide with a tiny robotic drone than to get pulverized by a jet fighter belonging to the Royal Australian Air Force.

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