The Dutch defence ministry owns 75 drones, or unmanned surveillance aircraft, and these are regularly used in the Netherlands to carry out police work, defence minister Jeanine Hennis has confirmed to MPs.
MPs had asked questions about the privacy implications of using drones after a report by the AD newspaper earlier this month.
In the article, the paper said drones are used to trace burglars and getaway cars as well as illegal marijuana plantations. For example, Harlingen borrowed two drones from the defence ministry last year after a spate of burglaries in the Frisian town.
According to research by news website nu.nl, drones have been used 551 times since their use in civilian surveillance was agreed in 2009.
In 2012, information on air space closures in official documents show drones were used on average once every other day. In 2011, almost 90% of flights were made public in advance but last year this fell to 50%. So far this year, only 24% of drone flights have been published.
Justice minister Ivo Opstelten will comment on the privacy aspects shortly.
A police spokesman told nu.nl the images taken by the drones are not currently kept. ‘All we can say at the moment is the drones are used for surveillance. The images are not kept,’ a spokesman said.
Rob van Nieuwland, chairman of drone users’ association Darpas, told nu.nl that more transparency about when drones are used will increase public confidence and deter crime.
‘Burglars will not go out if they know in advance they are being watched,’ he said. ‘But you have to be transparent about their use.’
He claims the use of drones by government is the tip of the iceberg. An increasing number of private firms use drones to make aerial photographs, video events, monitor bird reserves and act as lifeguards, he said.
Darpas has 30 members but some 115 companies use drones, he said.