Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Police to introduce drone surveillance

Botswana citizens already reeling under invasive government surveillance  should brace themselves for more.

The Botswana Police  Services (BPS) is to introduce drone surveillance to augment other already extensive snooping capabilities. 

The revelation was made by police spokesperson, Dipheko Motube in an interview with this publication.

Motube disclosed that they have put out an expression of interest to secure drones. He also highlighted that they have been consulting with various stakeholders.

“We are still looking at different people to establish if the technology can work and how,” he said. 

He revealed that they have been putting some things in place of which he could not share with this publication due to security reasons. 

The police spokesperson admitted that they have encountered a series of setbacks during the planning stages. Challenges that he said he was not in a place to disclose.

Motube also could not share with this publication the timeline of when the drone surveillance will be introduced, but rather said members of the public should know they will be used in the future as plans are at an advanced stage to consider them. 

Motube not in a position to say which areas they have identified to use this technology due to security reasons.

According to parliamentary documents sourced by this publication, the BPS deploys deliberate strategies in order to ensure public safety and continues to expand existing strategies and launch new ones to augment existing capabilities. 

“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; the BPS continues to leverage technology to maintain public safety.” Read part of the document.

This comes as the capital Gaborone and second city Francistown are already under the watchful eye of 1,174 safer city CCTV surveillance cameras combined, with a further 1,800 to be installed in the two cities. 

The Safer City Project surveillance cameras installed by China’s Huawei Technologies Botswana, in the countries’ two major cities, currently has 650 operational cameras in Gaborone and 524 in Francistown, according to the BPS spokesperson. 

He said the expansion of Gaborone CCTV surveillance will see 1350 cameras being installed in addition to the already existing 650 cameras to cover Greater Gaborone areas like Tlokweng, Gabane and Metsimotlhabe.

Motube said in Francistown they will be putting an additional 450 surveillance cameras to the already existing 524.

Unlawful

University of Botswana Professor Tachilisa Balule,  who has written extensively about laws that regulate digital surveillance in Botswana, told this publication that this is actually not any different from the safer city surveillance cameras in Gaborone and Francistown.  

Professor Balule said if the use of drones is going to be introduced, obviously this is going to impact on the right to privacy. 

“The right to privacy is guaranteed in the constitution and any invasion to the right of privacy or any conduct that is likely to impact on the enjoyment of the right to privacy might therefore comply with the provisions as you find them in the constitution,” said Professor Balule.

The UB professor said the first requirement is that such limitations must have a basis in law. 

He asked that if the government is planning to introduce the use of these drones, is there any law or regulation that is going to permit that. 

“I hope they are not going to bring the issue of the Electronic and Evidence Act, that it is the one justifying that because it is not. They should do the right thing and introduce a law or regulations that would allow the use of drones,” said the academic.

According to the police spokesperson Section 5 (1) of the Electronic Records Evidence Act, 2014 allows for the use of video surveillance. 

“Nothing in the rules of evidence shall apply to deny the admissibility of an electronic record in evidence on the sole ground that it is an electronic record,” he said.

Professor Balule has however disputed this saying the Act provides for the admissibility of electronic records as evidence in legal proceedings and authentication of records. 

He said the fact that these things (drones) can be used to fight crime, that in itself does not justify the limitation or the invasion of individuals right to privacy. 

“The public interest can never in all cases override the right to privacy, so you need to bring in place regulations that will strike a proper balance between protection of privacy and law enforcement,” said the professor. 

The Minister of Defence and Security is expected to hold a press briefing on Friday to apprise members of the fourth estate on issues pertaining to defence and security in Botswana. Perhaps these are some of the issues that will be addressed. 

Mmapula Molapong is a journalist investigating digital surveillance with support from the Media Policy & Democracy Project (MPDP), under the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Communication and Media.

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