Police using drones to identify key protestors⁠— and it may lead to harassment in the future

Delhi Police using Drone camera for search oprations in Trilokpuri in East Delhi earlier this yearBCCL
  • Drones are monitoring parts of Delhi where there are protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
  • The Delhi Police has been using Netra UAVs — developed by the Defence and Research Organisation and IdeaForge — to surveil the city for over four years.
  • They can fly up to 200 meters in the air — 80 meters over the limit prescribed by Indian drone laws.
Drones are helping keep the peace in India’s national capital, New Delhi, as nation-wide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) are on the rise.


Citizens have been flooding the streets to show their disapproval for the new law ⁠— on that they fear is setting the foundation for excluding Muslims in the upcoming National Registry for Citizens (NRC) ⁠— despite the enforcement of Section 144, a law which prohibits public gatherings in a given jurisdiction.

The drones in use ⁠— Netra UAVs developed by a Mumbai-based company called IdeaForge⁠— are able to fly as high as 200 metres. From that height, they are able to scan a hexagonal grid that extends to around three to four kilometres. And, it has thermal night-vision.

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"Drones are used to record happenings and in case of massive law and order situations, where things go out of hand, the recordings help to identify those who cause a situation to go out of hand," a senior police officer told India Today. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the arsonists can be “identified by their clothes.”

This is exactly the kind of ethical violation human rights violation experts have warned against in the past. Especially in a situation like the one in India right now, where mass protests are currently underway, the use of drones by the police falls may lead to the isolation of some protestors and their harassment.

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Here’s why facial recognition using drones falls in the ethical gray area

As the following excerpt from Brennan Center for Justice in the US pointed out in October 2019, the use of drones for facial recognition may have the following consequences:

  • Race, Gender, and Age Bias: Numerous studies have found that facial recognition performs poorly when analyzing the faces of women, children, and people with darker skin tones. This places communities already subject to over-policing at greater risk of misidentification.
  • Privacy: Facial recognition is recognised as extraordinarily intrusive, challenging reasonable expectations of privacy and lacking necessary oversight. This is why a number of groups have called for a moratorium on facial recognition.
  • Free Speech: Law enforcement use of facial recognition may expose protesters to persistent surveillance and identification.
  • Regulation: There have been widespread calls for its regulation, and some cities in the US have even banned its use.
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It’s not a new thing

What many don’t know is that the Delhi Police has been using these drones for over four years. Developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO) in collaboration with IdeaForge.

In addition to the Delhi Police using drones to surveil Old Delhi, they are also being used to monitor the situation at Shaheed Park near ITO. Drones were also employed two days ago to monitor crowds in Seeemalpur areas where there were reports of arson and violence.



Earlier this year, drones were also used to carry out surveillance in parts of New Delhi where there was a threat of agitation after the Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya land dispute as well to monitors sections of East Delhi and Trilokpuri during the Lok Sabha election.

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The buzzing drones may further infuriate the crowds

Even though the drones are employed as a ‘ surveillance’ measure — they only seem to be instigating the crowds in Old Delhi. When one of the drones flew over All India Student’ Association (AISA) and Swaraj Abhiyan protestors looking to reach the Red Fort — the throng got even louder shouting, clearing and clapping at the passer-by in the sky, according to PTI.

See also:
India's Citizenship Act gets challenged at the Supreme Court barely a day after passing Parliament

What is Citizenship Bill and how does it affect religious freedom in India?

Drone technology uses and applications for commercial, industrial and military drones in 2020 and the future

Reliance Industries is getting into drones with its new purchase


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