Oakland, California, Turns Out to Protest Police Drone
October 20, 2012
Occupy Oakland Media Committee & San Francisco Chronicle
In Oakland, California, local residents and civil rights organizations have organized demonstrations to resist the Sheriff’s attempts to deploy drones over Alameda County. A press conference was recently called to highlight public concerns about invasion of privacy, the militarization of police forces, restrictions on free speech and political expression.
Say No To Drones In Alameda County!
Occupy Oakland Media Committee
OAKLAND, Calif. (October 17, 2012) -- At a press conference to be held on the steps of Oakland City Hall on Thursday, October 18, at 11:00 a.m., Alameda County residents and legal advocacy organizations will announce their efforts to resist the Sheriff’s announced plans to deploy aerial surveillance "drones" for undisclosed law enforcement purposes.
"Community members intend to pursue city and county legislation to prohibit the use of drones to spy on Alameda County residents," stated Mary Madden, an Oakland resident. "The Sheriff’s idea is a threat to our privacy, and a deterrent to those of us who participate in community and political activities."
The ACLU of Northern California has sent County Sheriff Ahern a public records request, asking for basic information about why drones are needed, how much they would cost to acquire, operate and maintain, and how the drones would be used.
"Drones should not be used for indiscriminate mass surveillance," said Linda Lye, staff attorney with the ACLU-NC. "Transparency is key. Right now, we don’t know what, if any, safeguards the Sheriff intends to follow before deploying unmanned surveillance aircraft into our skies."
Critical Resistance, a national organization that has helped organize against the use of gang injunctions in Oakland, has also condemned Sheriff Ahern’s plans for drones. "The idea of using military equipment in policing is one more step in the militarization of Bay Area police activities," stated Rachel Herzing, of Critical Resistance.
"Extending police powers to monitor and surveil local residents within communities that already have a high level of distrust of the police can only generate more tension and resentment toward police forces, while further criminalizing our families and neighbors."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation originally sued the FAA under the Freedom of Information Act to get information on all public and private entities that have applied for drone authorizations and has since filed many public records requests to local law enforcement agencies to find out more about drone use. "Drones will give law enforcement an unprecedented ability to spy on Americans, and the law has not kept up with the technology," said Trevor Timm, activist for EFF.
"Before any law enforcement agency operates drones in American skies, we need binding privacy safeguards and transparency requirements that explain and control their use. Police should need a warrant to use drones for surveillance on any individual, and agencies need clear data use and retention standards that explain how and for what purpose surveillance footage and data are being used, with whom its being shared, and when it will be deleted."
Alameda County Sheriff Seeks Drone to Fight Crime
San Francisco Chronicle
OAKLAND (October 19, 2012) -- The Alameda County Sheriff's Department is hoping to become one of the handful of local law enforcement agencies that have received federal clearance to use unmanned aerial drones to fight crime, a goal that already is arousing concerns among privacy advocates.
Civil liberties and privacy groups revealed Thursday that Sheriff Greg Ahern is seeking Department of Homeland Security funding to buy a small remote-controlled drone called a Dragon Fly. If the money comes through and the Federal Aviation Administration permits the department to test the device, Alameda would be the first public safety agency in California to deploy technology first developed for spying on U.S. enemies overseas.
A memo that one of Ahern's captains prepared over the summer, obtained by the Freedom of Information Act web site MuckRock, says the drone would be equipped with a long-distance camera, live video downlink and infrared sensors that could be used for monitoring bomb threats, fires, unruly crowds, search and rescue operations, and marijuana grows.
Only four local law enforcement agencies in the United States have received FAA approval to train officers, deputies and volunteer pilots to operate aerial drones, according to Don Roby, a police captain in Baltimore County, Maryland who chairs the aviation committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. They are in Miami, Seattle, Mesa County, Colo., and Arlington, Texas, although only the Colorado agency has permission to use them routinely, Roby said.
"There is a lot of interest in it, but more people are taking a wait-and-see-attitude," he said.
Congress has ordered the FAA to develop safely regulations that would allow both public agencies and commercial operators to fly unmanned aircraft by 2015.
Ahern's spokesman, Sgt. J.D. Nelson, told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/TiWMXv ) that the Dragon Fly model the department tested costs between $50,000 and $100,000 but would save money now spent on spent on sending helicopters into the sky.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of Northern California want the sheriff to provide more details about why the drone is needed and how the department would use it. The San Francisco Police Department also has expressed interest in acquiring a drone, although its grant application was rejected, Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Trevor Timm said.
In some communities, the public only has learned about a local agency's plan to acquire a drone by filing Freedom of Information Act requests and then lobbying lawmakers to ask questions, Timm said.
"This is the kind of pattern we are seeing, and the most effective way to put the brakes on these projects is to get local government involved," he said.
Ben Gielow, general counsel for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an unmanned trade group, said opponents of unmanned aerial vehicles should understand that battery-operated drones are incapable of traveling the long distances that would be required to follow a car or a person beyond the limited areas covered under FAA permits.
"These are not military systems that stay in the air for extended periods of time," Gielow said. "They are small systems that stay in the back of the squad car and are used like a canine unit."
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has developed model guidelines for departments planning to use drones. The guidelines include maintaining a public log of the flight hours drones put in and other steps to ensure officers are not misusing the equipment.
A an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll released last month found that 44 percent of those surveyed supported allowing police to use drones inside the U.S., while 35 percent said they were "extremely concerned" or "very concerned" that domestic use of the technology for law enforcement surveillance would erode personal privacy.
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