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Seattle residents protest police plan to use drones

By Arturo Garcia
Sunday, October 28, 2012 11:13 EDT
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Seattle residents spoke up against their local police department’s plan to start using unmanned drones at a community meeting Thursday.

The Seattle Times reported that most of the 100 people at the meeting expressed their mistrust at the authorities’ use of two Draganflyer X6 Helicopter Techs, which was recently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration under certain guidelines.

“Hasn’t anyone heard of George Orwell’s 1984?” said one man, who identified himself as Matt. E. “This is the militarization of our streets and now the air above us.”

Authorities said the unarmed drones’ use would be limited to homicide investigations and operations involving traffic, hazardous material, natural disasters, barricaded persons and search and rescues.

According to Russia Today, FAA guidelines also restrict the drones from being used to fly over crowds, or at night, which suggests they would not be able to be used against demonstrators; the drone’s operator and observer must also be “within eyesight of the drone at all times,” and they cannot be flown at an altitude over 400 feet.

Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the Washington state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said at the meeting that police policy regarding drone use should be set by a city ordinance, instead of the department.

“So long as it is a policy, it can be changed,” Shaw said. “An ordinance cannot be changed at will and is the only way we can be sure there is meaningful input.”

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an activist group that partnered with Muckrock News to file more than 200 public-records requests regarding police drone use around the country, the Seattle City Council only learned about the department’s request to use the Draganflyers after the city was listed by the FAA on a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by EFF and Muckrock.

Muckrock also reported that the department is looking to buy two more drones, with the expectation that the FAA will expand the parameters for their use in the near future.

“There are definitely very legitimate uses for drones that could help out society — like you said, mapping natural disaster, fighting forest fires, those kinds of things,” EFF activist Trevor Timm told RT. “The problem is, mission creep gets involved, and when the technology advances to the point where they can fly for hours and days at a time very cheaply, police can start using them for surveillance.”

Russia Today’s report on the prospective use of drones in Seattle, posted on YouTube Friday, can be seen below.

Arturo Garcia
Arturo Garcia
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
 
 
 
 
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