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In Kerala and Telangana, police turn to drones to enforce COVID-19 lockdown

Courtesy: Cyberabad Police twitter | Representational image

Kerala Police and Telangana Police have deployed drones across several districts to keep an eye on COVID-19 lockdown violations. On April 7, Kerala Police tweeted a compilation video of drone footage recorded in the state where people can be seen running through paddy fields, on beaches, upon sighting the drone. In Kerala’s Kasargod district, the police have hired drones from individuals, and the footage recorded by those is stored on police’s mobile phones, Ashok Yadav, IGP, North Zone, Kerala Police, told MediaNama. Kerala’s Cyberdome Police has been spearheading the usage of drones in the state, he told us.

The Delhi Police, Mumbai Police and Jammu and Kashmir Police have also used drones to enforce the 3-week long curfew.

District in Kerala outsources drone operations to private individuals

There are 7 coronavirus containment zones in Kasargod, and a drone has been deployed in each zone, Yadav told us. These drones are hired from private citizens, who use these machines for photography etc., Yadav said. These individuals often work a 12-hour long shift.

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Recorded footage is stored on police’s mobile phones: The footage recorded by these drones is “stored in the mobile phones of police officials” and the operators don’t have access to it, as they are asked to delete footage recorded by the drones after transferring it to police personnel’s mobile phones, Yadav said.

Drone footage has led to violators being arrested: Apart from breaking up gatherings of lockdown violators, Kasargod Police have used drone footage to arrest around 160–170 violators in the last 3 days itself, Yadav informed us. “We are using these drones to see if anyone is violating the lockdown, and people found roaming outside for no purpose are being arrested,” he said. “Apart from reviewing the recorded footage, we can also see live feed from a drone’s camera. That has also been useful,” he added.

What we don’t know: There are a few things we don’t know at the moment, including if police in all districts of Kerala are using drones, and if they have similar data storage and sharing practices as Kasargod Police. We don’t know if the police oversee drone operations carried out by private individuals. There also isn’t much clarity about how the police ensure that drone operators delete recorded footage from their end, and if drone operators have to sign a contract with the police before flying drones for them. We also don’t know how the police views live footage, and if the drone operators also have access to it. We’ve reached out to multiple police jurisdictions in the state for these details.

Multiple police stations in Telangana also using drones

In Telangana, the Cyberabad Police and Karimnagar Police are also using drones to keep an eye out on lockdown violators. The Cyberabad Police have hired drones along with operators from a Hyderabad-based engineering and technology solutions company called Cyient. According to an image shared by Cyberabad Police on Twitter, Cyient’s drones are equipped with thermal imagining technology, and are capable of detecting body temperature. We don’t know from where the Karimnagar Police have procured drones, but have repeatedly reached out to them over phone calls and text messages. We’ve also reached out to Cyberabad Police for more details.

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Technical specification of Cyberabad Police’s drones: “There are different kinds of payloads/cameras used basis the requirement, like powerful aerial zoom camera with 30x optical and 6x digital zoom giving up to 180x magnification and also a high-resolution 4k RGB cameras for surveillance. The drones also have a robust radiometric thermal imaging sensor for monitoring of people’s movement and sky speaker megaphone for public announcements,” Cyient told us when we reached out to them for technical specifications of the drones they’ve supplied to the police. Cyient did not answer our query on whether their drones also have face recognition capability.

Police accompanies drone operators, footage is handed over to police: Cyient told us that its drone pilots are “accompanied with a head police constable from the IT cell of the Cyberabad Commissionerate” as they are recording footage. Following recording, the video footage and pictures are handed over to the Inspector of IT cell and command control centre “every day in the evening/night soon after the completion of surveillance”, Cyient said.

“Copies of any data in the drone SD cards are securely deleted and destroyed by the IT cell teams, memory cards are screened, validated by an Inspector rank official before they are returned to the drone pilots for usage in the next day’s exercise,” they added.

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