Police Scotland’s use of remote piloted aircraft systems and body worn video cameras

Closed 12 Jan 2021

Opened 15 Dec 2020

Published responses

View submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response.



The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing is to hold an oral evidence session with Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority on Police Scotland’s use of remote piloted aircraft systems and body worn video cameras, on Monday, 18 January 2021.

In advance of this, the Sub-Committee is inviting interested parties to submit any written views they may have on these issues.

Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)

Police Scotland currently possess and operate three remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), also known colloquially as ‘drones’. They are based in Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow respectively. In May 2019 the Sub-Committee was informed by Police Scotland that two of the drones were to be deployed operationally in the North of Scotland, and the drone based in Glasgow would only be utilised for training, research and development purposes.

Police Scotland also confirmed that the RPAS would primarily be deployed in the North of Scotland to help support police operations in a significant number of missing person investigations, some of which require air support as part of the search strategy, particularly given the nature and remoteness of the terrain. Police Scotland stated use would also be considered for other policing operations and incidents such as ‘major events, public order and firearms incidents’.

Prior to purchasing the RPAS, Police Scotland did not carry out any privacy, human rights or data protection impact assessments, or ethical assessments.

On 22 May 2019, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Board agreed a report by its Strategy Performance and Policy Committee on Police Scotland’s purchase and proposed use of RPAS. The report included the following two stipulations:

  • “It was stressed that the RPAS would not be used for operational tasking other than searching for missing persons without further authority.”
  • “It was agreed that an evaluation covering best value, privacy, human rights and ethical assessments would be brought back to the [SPA’s Strategy Performance and Policy] Committee.”

On 17 November 2020 Police Scotland presented its Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Evaluation Report to the SPA’s Policing Performance Committee.

The report indicated that RPAS had been used in the North or Scotland, as well as in Glasgow and the surrounding areas for operational purposes beyond searching for missing persons, and that Police Scotland had not sought the authority of the SPA to do so. These operations included surveillance of youths at Troon beach to determine if there was any anti-social behaviour, and surveillance of a Greenpeace protest aboard an oil rig in the Cromarty Firth. The report indicated that the three RPAS had collectively flown 426 hours, and that only two community impact assessments were carried out prior to the operations.

The evaluation report indicated that feedback received from internal stakeholders and the public has been overwhelmingly positive with significant support for use of the technology, and confirms Police Scotland’s intention to increase the use of RPAS.

The report did not include an evaluation of best value, privacy, human rights and ethical assessments.

Body worn video cameras

Police Scotland intends to introduce the use of body worn video cameras (BWVC) for police officers and are seeking funding to progress that ambition in the next financial year.

In her recently published final report on Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing, Dame Elish Angiolini recommends the use of BWVCs, but highlights the risks to be mitigated prior to introducing them. These include the violation of the privacy of third parties who are not the subject of interaction and insufficient capacity of IT systems to store and transmit footage.

The Sub-Committee has written to Police Scotland on this issue on a number of occasions. The correspondence can be accessed here. It also held an evidence session on this issue in 2017. 

Police Scotland confirmed during oral evidence that a number of steps would be taken prior to taking a decision to roll-out BWVCs. This included:

  • a public consultation exercise,
  • equality impact and public impact assessments,
  • consulting with police unions and staff associations,
  • an evaluation of all the areas in which the equipment might be used, such as by armed police officers, as well as an evaluation of how the cameras would be used; and
  • an evaluation of the cameras used by the football co-ordination unit for Scotland, or FoCUS, as it is known.

Police Scotland also indicated that a full business case would be developed which would identify the benefits and risks, as well as the costs, to ensure that they were making best use of their finances.

In Police Scotland’s most recent response they confirm that they are aware that there are privacy and third party concerns, and of the need for engagement and impact assessments to be completed. They also confirm that they have not carried out an evaluation of the use of BWVCs by the football co-ordination unit.

What does the Sub-Committee want to know?

You are invited to submit written views to the Justice Sub-Committee on the above remit and the following areas: 

  1. Police Scotland’s use of RPAS and the parameters of that use. For example, whether it should extend to urban areas and beyond searching remote and rural terrain for vulnerable and missing persons, and whether RPAS should be used for surveillance purposes.
  2. The oversight, governance, and transparency of Police Scotland’s use of RPAS and BWVCs, and any possible role for the incoming Scottish Biometrics Commissioner, once in post.
  3. Any data protection, security and retention implications, as well as the impact on community, privacy and human rights, or any ethical implications.
  4. The engagement, consultation and transparency of plans to use, or the current use of, RPAS and BWVCs.
  5. The legal and regulatory basis that Police Scotland rely upon to use RPAS in urban and rural areas. 
  6. Police Scotland’s current use of BWVCs and whether that requires to be evaluated to inform the risks, costs and benefits in the business plan prior to their wider introduction, such as an evaluation of their use by the football co-ordination unit

How to submit your views

The Sub-Committee welcomes your views on any issue relating to Police Scotland’s current use, and planned expanded use, of RPASs and BWVCs.

Please provide your response via the submission form linked to below.

Your response does not need to cover all of the areas listed above and you can focus on those that are relevant to you or your organisation. Also, you are welcome to cover other areas in your submission that you think are relevant to the Sub-Committee’s consideration of these issues.

Please note that in most cases your written submission will be published on the Scottish Parliament's website and may be quoted in any report by the Sub-Committee or in the Sub-Committee meetings (which are in public and broadcast).

Please note that the Sub-Committee does not involve itself in individual cases or complaints. While you may draw on any of your own personal experiences, your submission should focus on issues outlined above. There are a few situations where we may not choose to publish your evidence or have to edit it before publication for legal reasons, including data protection and defamation.

Before making a submission, please read our privacy notice about submitting your views to a committee. This tells you about how we process your personal data. It is particularly important to note that we would not normally publish information that we consider to be defamatory or which contains personal information about a third party.

We welcome written views in English, Gaelic, Scots or any other language. Due to the time required to process and analyse evidence, late submissions will only be accepted with the agreement of the clerk.


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