Two remote-controlled drones are expected to be bought by police in Northern Ireland to strengthen security for the G8 summit.
Once world leaders have departed the County Fermanagh summit the drones will continue to be deployed against terrorists and criminals.
The £1m drones can provide unrivalled eye-in-the-sky surveillance capabilities, relaying live pictures from high quality cameras that can track individuals and remaining airborne for seven hours or more continuously.
However, they will intensify concerns over civil liberties and are likely to provoke a mixed reaction from Northern Ireland’s political leaders.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has informed the Police Board, according to the BBC, that it intends to go ahead with the plan to buy and use drones.
A huge security operation is being put together to protect world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, when they meet in June at the Lough Erne golf resort and the drones are intended to complement the measures.
One of the models the PNSI is understood to have considered is small enough to store in a rucksack and can take off within minutes of being unpacked. Unlike the US military drones that have caused enormous controversy in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries where they are deployed against terror suspects and insurgents, the model used by the PSNI will be unarmed.
They provide a cheap form of aerial surveillance that can be operated more covertly than a manned helicopter. Each police helicopter costs about £7m to buy and the annual cost of running three is a further £5m. By contrast, the drones cost about £1m and have lower operating costs. Merseyside Police have already experimented with an unmanned drone, though it crashed into the Mersey.
When the purchase of drones in Northern Ireland was mooted last year they were welcomed by the DUP for their potential in cracking down on terrorists and crime gangs, especially human trafficking and fuel smuggling. But Pat Sheehan, a Sinn Fein member of the Policing Board, was less enthusiastic.The PSNI was last night unavailable for comment.
A European Commission document published last year forecast that within the next decade drones will become commonplace. Law enforcement is just one of many uses.