Air & Space Evidence

The World’s First Space Detective Agency


As the spatial resolution in Earth observation technologies improves, privacy could become an increasingly important issue. Monitoring using some of these Earth observation technologies can sometimes be seen to be covert, allowing access to areas that might otherwise not be able to be seen at ground level (e.g. behind high fences or walls). Privacy impacts could in extreme circumstances potentially result in challenges to the admissibility of imagery as evidence.

As unmanned aerial systems, or drones, become cheaper and more commonplace then it is likely that their imagery will become more frequently used in investigations and tested in courts of law.

Questions of privacy have been raised before in courts in the context of aerial photography. The question of how much privacy people are entitled to in relation to monitoring by unmanned aerial systems or satellites appears uncertain in courts across the world. We have a strong background in examining the privacy right implications of these technologies under the UK Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights, and can advise accordingly.

Investigatory Powers / Search Warrants

The UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA 2000) introduced new protective measures to ensure that the relevant investigatory techniques of enforcement authorities were used in accordance with human rights. It provides a statutory basis for the authorisation and use by the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and other public authorities in England and Wales of covert surveillance, agents, informants and undercover officers. It regulates the use of these techniques, and seeks to safeguard the public from unnecessary invasions of their privacy. Part II of this Act creates a system of authorisations for various types of surveillance and the conduct and use of covert human intelligence sources. The consequences of not obtaining an authorisation under RIPA 2000 may be, where there is an interference by a public authority with Article 8 privacy rights (under the European Convention on Human Rights) and there is no other source of authority, that the action is unlawful by virtue of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

There is no currently clear authority on the applicability of the above to some Earth observation technologies. We can provide expert advice as to what extent satellite derived imagery used in support of UK law enforcement agencies needs to conform to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (and comparative legislation in the devolved jurisdictions of the United Kingdom) and overseas legislation.


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