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Spy drones track European farms

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European farmland may soon be under the surveillance of drones - is the U.S. next?

In an attempt to catch out European farmers who claim more subsidies than they are entitled to, surveillance agencies are turning more extensively towards technological methods.

According to the BBC, satellites and spy drones are being turned to in order to try and prevent fraud and a waste of taxpayer's money. Europe's farms cost the taxpayer billions of euros in governmental subsidies each year, and the European Union is now running trials on investigative drones to work in conjunction with already-present satellite technology.

The new technology currently being trialed involves drones fly overhead and satellites taking images from relays hundred of kilometers above, recording minute details such as individual trees and the placement of animals to record a farm's activities.

Scanning a farm remotely rather than using the services of an inspector costs approximately one third less -- £115 ($180) instead of £310 ($490), according to the UK's Rural Payments Agency (RPA), who are ultimately in charge of dispensing subsidies and checking for unacceptable farm activity. According to the RPA:

"The RPA follows up only on those claims where there is some doubt about accuracy, and then only at the specific fields for which the doubt exists. This saves time, lifts the burden on farmers and reduces cost to the taxpayer."

If a farmer is found to be acting in a fraudulent matter, then evidence gleaned from this technology can be used against them -- resulting in a loss of their subsidies.

Approximately 70 percent of EU farming checks are now completed via satellite technology, although the method is not yet fool-proof. Checks can be made inaccurate due to shadows cast in mountainous areas, and some areas, like Scotland, are simply considered too cloudy for the technology to work efficiently. A major issue is that farmland, by its nature, is not static -- images change constantly. For example, counting animals accurately is difficult, and there are many elements of the countryside which alter over time.

This is where the extension of surveillance technology comes in -- the use of drones. These models are currently being tested in France, Italy and Spain. In order to forestall any privacy issues resulting in this method, the EU is currently seeking to relax current legislation on civilian drone use so the scrutiny can proceed country-wide.

Privacy groups have raised concerns over the use of this technology, however, many farmers have stated that they prefer remote sensorship than the prospect of inspectors on their land.

It is not only those in Europe that needs to take this in to account -- it may soon be coming to the United States.

(via BBC)
Image credit: Michael Peligro

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure