The Italian Almanac

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Italian News / Europe - June 4

Fleets of unmanned "drone" aircraft fitted with powerful cameras are to be used to patrol Europe's borders in a dramatic move to combat people-smuggling, illegal immigration and terrorism. The aircraft, called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are already being used by the Belgian government to catch tankers illegally dumping oil in the North Sea. Several ships' captains have already been prosecuted.

The European Commission now wants to use similar drones, which can have a 6m wingspan and weigh as little as 195kg, to patrol the Mediterranean coasts and the Balkans where illegal immigrants try to enter the European Union. A senior commission official said: "We're convinced that this is a very good way of using military technologies for non-military purposes."

Alongside the new "spies in the sky", officials in Brussels have launched more than a dozen research projects to develop new technologies for counter-terrorism, policing and border security. They include body scanners that can see through clothing and detect explosive vests, guns or chemical weapons; portable devices that can "see" through walls and detect people moving inside buildings; and tiny radio tags that would be fitted on people inside buildings under surveillance.