Friday 1 March 2024


Drones must fly over regulations to become sky heroes



As security companies are looking to drone technology to prevent crime, their success depends on the interpretation of the law.

ByRadithebe Rammutle

Fidelity Services Group recently announced that it has added drone technology in its crime fighting arsenal. Both residential and commercial clients will now have the benefit of real time information needed for their safety. In a press briefing Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Fidelity Services Group, Wahl Bartmann said they "? believe drones and the deployment of a mobile drone team, will not only act as a highly effective visible deterrent to criminals, but also ... to track down and locate criminal elements once an outer perimeter on an estate has been breached, or in any scenario where suspects are at large on a security estate."

As advances in drone technology evolve, businesses across sectors are looking for ways to take advantage of these new technologies to develop innovative solutions for their clients. Abraham Karem, an American engineer, was the inventor of drones or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology for use in the military. He first invented the Amber and Predator drones, which were fixed-wing drones and later developed the popular rotary-wing drones.

Since their debut, drones have captured the imagination of business leaders seeking to bring efficiency in their organisations. This is reflected in the growing demand for this technology despite privacy and airspace regulations that have become an impediment to their deployment. It was estimated that it accounted for US$ 354.8 million in 2019 and was expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 34.7% over the forecasted period 2019-2027.

For security companies, the drone technology adds another layer of security for effective crime prevention. Until recently, security companies offered access control, electrical fencing, home alarm and close circuit television (CCTV) systems as well as manned guarding services to protect clients ?properties. These were not always efficient because in some cases criminals use methods that makes these security mechanisms ineffective. These methods include surprise attacks when victims are most vulnerable. Mounted with a high-end-camera ? some models equipped with thermal technology for night-time ? linked to a traditional closed-circuit television (CCTV) system, drones can livestream video that can help security personnel to pursue crime perpetrators.

From a cost perspective, drones are a fraction what a helicopter cost with prices ranging from R1000 to R200 000 depending on the specifications. They are easy to store and maintain compared to cars and helicopters given their small size. Furthermore, cars and helicopters have additional cost of personnel that operates them. There is also the additional cost of fuel that are not applicable to drones. From an operational and human resource perspective security companies can keep their personnel out of harm and minimise health costs that arise from injury in duty. Clients can benefit from this technology in that they cover wide areas without the impediment of traffic when criminals are pursued. For the same reason, drones can get to the scene faster than cars.

However, regulation, particularly Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act could impede full exploitation of this technology. The POPI act was signed into law to protect personal information of South African citizens. Before the introduction of POPI, access and use of citizens? personal information, such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, was permissible on the basis of access to information legislation, even if such act violated privacy rights of citizens. Therefore the introduction of POPI brought about a balance between the right to privacy and the right to access of information.

The POPI act will have a direct impact on drone technology because it sets the requirements for use of this technology. Furthermore, it also limits how to use camera footage for investigation and prosecution purposes. Despite these restraints, some experts believe that POPI did not ban camera footage completely. It sought to enhance transparency and accountability in handling personal data particularly unique identifiers such as a face.

"If a crime has taken place, this needs to be reported to the proper authorities straight away, and the footage cannot be shown to third parties before it has become part of the official police record. [Otherwise] this would tarnish the evidentiary record, and as part of a criminal case, the prescribed process needs to be followed,"writes Alan Alhadeff, Director and Attorney at Alhadeff Attorneys.

If this legal opinion is anything to go by, then the future of security drones industry will grow and customers will sleep peaceful knowing that there is one additional layer of protection for their residency or business.


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