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EU spending over $400m on secret drone project – Civil rights group

Published time: February 12, 2014 11:50
AFP Photo / Robert MacPherson

AFP Photo / Robert MacPherson

The EU is investing hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros in the development of surveillance drones without political oversight, a report claims. The authors of the document warn the EU is secretly encouraging “the further militarization” of the region.

A report entitled ‘Eurodrones Inc.’ published by rights group Statewatch describes how the EU is channeling taxpayers’ money into surveillance drone projects without their knowledge.

“More than 315 million euro ($430 million) has so far been spent in EU research funding on drone technology or drones geared towards a specific purpose such as policing or border control,”
writes the report.

However, the document points out that the research funding is largely “invisible” to the people and parliaments of Europe and lacks the proper political oversight. According to the report this was achieved by a secret budget line that was included in new EU legislation on air traffic control for this year.

The report describes a 20-year roadmap that aims to introduce surveillance drones into EU airspace and highlights that this plan is being shaped by “thinly accountable officials” and representatives of large corporations.

“The EU’s emerging drone policy has come about following years of successful lobbying by defense and security companies and their associates,” said co-author of the report Chris Jones in a statement on Statewatch’s website, adding that these are the same defense and security contractors that have the most to gain.

The drones in question would engage in civilian surveillance activities, such as border patrols and the search for criminals. However, Statewatch is concerned that the convert nature of the program lends itself to the “further militarization” of the European Union.

Calling for “proper democratization” and the opening of public debate on the issue, the report notes the EU turned a blind eye to a European Commission statement in 2012 that declared the development of unmanned surveillance craft should be more transparent.

It recommended the issue be discussed with a number of organizations, including the European Group on Ethics, the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament or the European Agency for Fundamental Rights and Data Protection Supervisor.

“Yet none of these bodies have been involved,”
writes the report. “Their absence from policy debates means that many of the conversations the EU should be having about drones – such as what they should and should not be used for, and how to prevent further militarization and the deployment of fully autonomous weaponized drones – have been all but ignored.”

Although the authors of the report do not outwardly criticize research into drones, they do stress the fact that the current program is too “heavily skewed toward the interests of the big defense contractors.”

They argue that this could lead to “unwarranted state surveillance and repression,” as well as enhanced prospects for combat drone research for a global arms race.

“It’s easy to see why people are so excited about drones: there are many positive things they could be used for,”
said co-author Ben Hayes. He concluded that given the “clear implications” for civil liberties in the balance, the EU has a “moral and legal obligation” to uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law.

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