Malta Today reported last week that the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) “have expressed interest in benefitting from a European Union-sponsored project involving the deployment of unmanned drones to assist in migrant patrols at sea.” “An AFM spokesman told Malta Today that while the armed forces are ‘fully involved in the development of the system’ it is however ‘not participating in the testing of such drones.’”
The use of drones for land and sea border surveillance is contemplated by the EU Commission’s EUROSUR proposal which is currently being considered by the European Parliament. The Heinrich Böll Foundation’s recent report, “Borderline – The EU’s new border surveillance initiatives”, noted that “[w]hile FRONTEX has demonstrated a great amount of interest in the use of drones, it remains to be seen whether the agency will purchase its own UAVs. According to the 2012 FRONTEX Work Programme, the agency’s Research and Development Unit is currently engaged in a nine-month study to ‘identify more cost efficient and operational effective solutions for aerial border surveillance in particular Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) with Optional Piloted Vehicles (OPV) that could be used in FRONTEX Joint Operations (sea and land).’”
The United States has been using drones for some years now to monitor land and sea borders and is currently planning to expand the use of drones in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico despite serious questions that are being raised about the effectiveness of surveillance drones operating over the sea. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article the Predator drones that are currently being operated by the Department of Homeland Security over the Caribbean “have had limited success spotting drug runners in the open ocean. The drones have largely failed to impress veteran military, Coast Guard and Drug Enforcement Agency officers charged with finding and boarding speedboats, fishing vessels and makeshift submarines ferrying tons of cocaine and marijuana to America’s coasts.” “‘I’m not sure just because it’s a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that it will solve and fit in our problem set,’ the top military officer for the region, Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, said recently. … For the recent counter-narcotics flights over the Bahamas, border agents deployed a maritime variant of the Predator B called a Guardian with a SeaVue radar system that can scan large sections of open ocean. … But test flights for the Guardian [drone] showed disappointing results in the Bahamas, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the program who were not authorized to speak publicly. During more than 1,260 hours in the air off the southeastern coast of Florida, the Guardian assisted in only a handful of large-scale busts, the officials said….”
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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Malta, News
Tagged as Armed Forces of Malta, Border surveillance, Caribbean, Drones, European Commission, EUROSUR, Frontex, Gulf of Mexico, Malta, Migrants, Predator B, Refugees, SeaVue radar system, UAV, United States, Unmanned aerial vehicles, US Department of Homeland Security
The New York Times on Monday published an opinion article entitled “Drones for Human Rights” by Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Mark Hanis who are the co-founders of the Genocide Intervention Network.
They write that “[d]rones are not just for firing missiles in Pakistan…. It’s time we used the revolution in military affairs to serve human rights advocacy.” They acknowledge the legal, political, and practical problems of using surveillance drones to monitor human rights abuses, but using the current situation in Syria as an example, argue that one “could record the repression in Syria with unprecedented precision and scope. The better the evidence, the clearer the crimes, the higher the likelihood that the world would become as outraged as it should be. … If human rights organizations can spy on evil, they should.”
Mark Kersten, writing on his Justice in Conflict blog, acknowledges the potential value of drone surveillance, but is generally critical of the proposal: “[I]n the context of ‘drones for human rights’, the risk is that the human gets removed from the experience and accounting of human rights violations. What would seem to matter is not personal experience but the particular configuration of pixels on a screen. This is folly. The process of victims, survivors and witnesses being involved shouldn’t be exchanged for the ‘unprecedented precision and scope’ of the photographs offered by drone technology. If anything, the role of victims, survivors and witnesses in the process of seeking and delivering justice should be enhanced.”
As the NY Times opinion articles points out, surveillance drones are deployed in a variety of non-military missions, including border control. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has deployed surveillance drones on the U.S.-Mexican border for years. Frontex has been exploring the possible use of surveillance drones (unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV) for some period of time. In January Frontex organised a 3 day live demonstration of UAVs at Greece’s Aktio Air Base where international manufacturers performed a series of test flights over the west coast of Greece.
Surveillance drones could certainly be used for search and rescue operations at sea and along remote international borders. Could human rights organisations deploy their own drones in an effort to detect and monitor migrant boats as they embark on a dangerous trip across the Mediterranean? Presumably this could happen, but practical problems, including the expense and legality of such missions, make such a possibility unlikely anytime soon. But the use of drones by Frontex or national coastguards is not far off and it will be important to ensure that this new capability is used properly and not only as a border control tool to facilitate push-back operations at sea.
Click here for link to NY Times op-ed.
Click here for link to Justice in Conflict blog post.
Click here and here for links to Frontex research regarding drones.
Click here for Guardian article about the UAV industry’s plan for a “public relations effort to counter the negative image of the controversial aircraft.”
Filed under Aegean Sea, Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Mediterranean
Tagged as Aerovisión, Aktio Air Base, Andrew Stobo Sniderman, Drones, Frontex, Human Rights, Maritime Surveillance, Mark Hanis, Mark Kersten, Migrants, Refugees, Search and Rescue, Thales, UAV, UAV Fulmar, UAVSA, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association, Unmanned aerial vehicles