The Delhi Police has admitted to using drones during the legislative assembly elections and the riots that took place in Delhi in February. In response to an RTI filed by MediaNama (given below), the Delhi Police’s North East Division said that the department “hired” drones from the “open market” under the competency of HOO (Head of Offices) through concerned SHOs. Delhi’s North East district was the epicentre of the riots that claimed at least 53 lives last months.
Hiring drones from the “open market” instead of procuring/buying them means that the Delhi Police doesn’t have to issue a request for proposal, which would otherwise contain technical specifications of the drones. In the absence of such a document, it is difficult to ascertain the kind of drones the Delhi Police used, and what their capabilities were. This suggests a lack of transparency in the entire process. The hired drones would also have to be returned to respective companies, which is highly problematic since those companies could have access to the footage the police recorded.
No authorisation in ‘writing’: In response to our request for a copy of authorisation orders given for the deployment of drones by the Delhi Police in the last 6 months, or 12 months, the North East Division replied that no such orders were issued in writing. Not issuing written orders before carrying out surveillance using drones suggests that there is no accountability when it comes to usage of drones by the Delhi Police, and the police can potentially use them arbitrarily.
What our RTI was about: We had filed the RTI on the basis of a tweet on February 25 by the Dwarka Division of the Delhi Police that it was using drones to “keep an eye on the miscreants and maintain peace in the area”. Below is a list of the questions we asked, and the North East Division of the Delhi Police’s response:
- Please provide copies of laws/rules/guidelines governing the deployment of drones by Delhi Police.
- “Not related,” the Delhi Police said.
- Please provide copies of any documentation of orders given for deployment of drones by Delhi Police in Delhi in the last 6 months, or 12 months, whichever is possible.
- “No order was issued in writing,” the Delhi Police said.
- Please provide copies of any documentation of orders given for deployment of drones by Delhi Police in North East District in the last 6 months or 12 months, whichever is possible.
- “No comment in view of point No. 2,” the police said.
- Please provide copies of any laws/rules/guidelines regarding documentation, storage, processing and/or sharing of drone footage.
- “Not related,” the police said.
Earlier this month, Home Minister Amit Shah had revealed that the government used a facial recognition software to identify perpetrators of the Delhi riots. However, he did not specify whether the footage recorded by Delhi Police’s hired drones was also fed into the software for identification of people. In an earlier RTI filed by MediaNama enquiring about the usage of drones by the Delhi Police to film people protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, the Delhi Police had denied using drones even though there were at least a couple of reports suggesting that they did use drones. The Delhi Police has also used drones to keep an eye out on the violators of the 21-day nationwide lockdown.
A copy of our RTI: