California county postpones hearing on request to buy a surveillance drone for law enforcement
By End the Lie
Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern has postponed public discussion about his request to purchase a drone for “intelligence and information sharing and dissemination,” claiming it has nothing to do with the concerns raised by privacy advocates.
Interestingly, law enforcement agencies are already benefiting from the data captured by military drones in the United States and indeed drones are being used around the United States by both law enforcement and the military with disturbing frequency.
Even the National Guard uses drones in the United States and the justifications sound eerily similar to those offered by Ahern and others, such as “wildfire surveillance.”
While Ahern recognized that intelligence and information sharing and dissemination is the reason listed for the drone in a document obtained by the ACLU when asked by Stephanie Martin of KQED, he claimed they would be used “during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.”
“We would never use this for anything other than a mission specific event and those events would be: search and rescue, pursuing violent felons, pursuing people evading law enforcement and having the air support during a natural disaster to see the safest routes for people to travel in and out of an area,” Ahern said.
The Oakland Tribune reported, “But a July 20 internal memo from the Sheriff’s Office shows the department identified uses other than search and rescue, including barricaded suspects, investigative and tactical surveillance, intelligence gathering, suspicious persons and large crowd control disturbances.”
Ahern says that the discussion was postponed solely because he “had promised to take this matter in front of the Public Safety Committee before I asked the Board of Supervisors to vote on this.”
“There was a previous scheduled meeting for us at the Public Safety Committee but we got postponed,” said Ahern, which led to him pulling the request from the agenda.
However, there is considerable public opposition to the request, as the Daily Caller points out, which led “city officials in Berkeley, California to consider the creation of a “No Drone Zone” in the airspace over the city at the beginning of December 2012.”
Unfortunately, the “No Drone Zone” proposal was eventually shot down by the Berkeley City Council.
While a hearing is supposed to happen in early 2013 at some point, the office of Alameda County Second District Supervisor Richard Valle announced in a January 4 press release that the issue would not be addressed during the January 10 meeting of the Alameda County Public Protection Committee, according to Fremont Patch.
According to KTVU, the state grant to purchase the drone is valued at $31,646 and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has “accused the Sheriff’s Office for months of trying to get the device approved without full public discussion.”
“Public policy should not be made by stealth attack. Drones are subject to enormous abuses,” ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye said. “They can be used for warrantless mass surveillance. There needs to be an open and transparent process for debating the important question of whether a drone is even appropriate in our community and, if so, what safeguards should be in place before we buy a drone.”
Lye also spoke with KQED, raising even more concerns.
The Oakland Tribune reported that the funding for the drone was actually provided as part of a larger $1.2 million grant from the California Emergency Management Agency.
The fact that the grant was already secured indicated “that the department was far closer to acquisition than they had led the public to believe,” according to the Tribune.
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