Our National Security Agencies must reconsider the regulatory framework that governs the operations of drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in Ghana especially in outdoor events with the President in attendance. This will limit the myriad of security risks and potential hazards their use can facilitate.
Most drones are aircrafts without human pilots on-board with operators sitting remotely from their aircrafts. These crafts are normally fitted with cameras and other sensors for recording and other purposes.
Drones have a multiplicity of purpose from private use including photography, farm surveys, pest control, construction site overviews, military navigation and intelligence gathering and weapons deployment. However, its major application in Ghana is in the area of photography.
Most drones are used for peaceful private purposes and it is becoming increasingly fashionable and a common feature for event organisers and photographers due to the spectacular aerial views they provide. However modifications can be made to these drones to transport and deploy whichever payload a controller wants to deploy to a target.
Such payloads may include gases from canisters or miniaturised weapons in small drones to missiles in larger drones with the capability to wreak major havoc especially in public gatherings and high target locations.
Softer targets such as outdoor events of funerals, festivals, religious events, school anniversaries, sport festivals, parties and weddings are however not far from security concerns associated with nefarious use of drones considering the fact that terrorists generally like to cowardly attack soft spots.
There is also the established fact that most drones are not beyond the operational sphere of hackers. Although the primary pilot or user at an event may not intend negative application of the air vehicle a ‘black hat’ motivated by financial gain or radicalization may seize control of such vehicles and direct it at targets unintended by the primary user like into the face of a speaker at an event.
These and many other security concerns require a rethink of our rules governing the use of drones in Ghana. The only regulations relating to the operation of drones are those formulated by the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority and primarily focus on flight safety restricting drone use in areas within 10km of airports or helipads and vertical heights in excess of 400m.
There are no specific restrictions for use at government functions especially where the president and other senior government officials are attending.
A scenario like that which played on 4th August 2018 in Caracas Venezuela, when an attempt to assassinate President Maduro of Venezuela was almost successful while he was at an outdoor public event in Caracas Venezuela using two small drones each carrying a kilogram of plastic explosives, is one such scenario we must avoid at all cost. Venezuelan authorities reported that the world leader was only saved because of radio inhibitors they had at the event venue.
It is also public knowledge that in Nigeria, one of our neighbours, uses combat drones in its anti-terrorism fight against Boko Haram. If such weapons get into wrong hands either through theft or purchase from corrupt military or intelligence officials they could be used to wreak havoc in whichever operational theatres they choose.
But even more worrying is the fact that a harmless drone could be used to take surveillance of security features around our President and such information can later be used to perpetuate an attack at the location.
A recent issue was the use of a drone by a TV station to take overhead video of the residence of President Mahama during the transition period, an action that exposed the layout of the facility and exposed its security infrastructure to all persons watching the news.
At the time, members of the public applauded the TV station for that feat but of greater concern is the information that it made to people who did not have the appropriate clearance to have such information and the potential threat it posed to future occupants of the building.
A similar drone could be deployed to take photographs or videos of military and other security installations including the Flagstaff House exposing such facilities to potential threats by enemies of the state.
It is therefore imperative that we formulate laws or protocols that restrict or control the use of drones at sensitive security locations and public gatherings and events attended by political leaders, parliamentarians, and government officials especially the President.
There are suggestion to formulate restrictions that include requirements for registration, identification and clearance for possession and operation of such vehicles within certain spaces. However such restrictions would be meaningless if security operatives are not equipped with the necessary training and equipment at all times to enforce such restrictions.
Even countries that have the capacity to either shoot down or take control of drones and redirect them to safer locations have several restrictions on their use and operations. In the US, for example, drones are restricted from flying over federal buildings and with regards to flying around the President that is strictly forbidden.
Ghana should therefore not play ostrich and leave drone operations unrestricted.