A county Sheriff’s department in California that planned to buy and operate a surveillance drone has been forced to suspend the idea, and possibly scrap it altogether after privacy advocates fought tooth and nail in opposition.
The Oakland Tribune reports that the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in earlier this week to prevent the Alameda County Sheriff’s office from acquiring the drone using grant money from the California Emergency Management Agency.
“…the Sheriff’s Office was asking the supervisors on Tuesday to approve a $31,646 grant to help pay for a drone, indicating that the department was far closer to acquisition than they had led the public to believe.” the newspaper reports.
As County supervisors prepared to vote on accepting the grant money Tuesday, ACLU attorney Linda Lye said that the proposal would pave the way for police “spying,” adding that the sheriff is “not taking privacy issues seriously.”
The latest protests, following months of sustained opposition from civil rights attorneys and anti-drone activists including The Electronic Frontier Foundation, prompted the sheriff’s department and County board supervisors to rethink and postpone the plan.
Undersheriff Richard Lucia told supervisors that the department will wait until the plan has been “fully vetted publicly” and explicit authorization has been provided to proceed with the drone purchase.
Describing the inclusion of the drone plan on the agenda of the regular board meeting as “an oversight”, Lucia said that the $31,646 in grant money would either be sent back to Cal EMA or be used for something else should supervisors block the drone acquisition.
The Sheriff’s department wants to become the first law enforcement agency in the state to officially deploy technology previously used to hunt insurgents in Afghanistan.
Sheriff Gregory Ahern of Alameda County says he wants a 4-foot wing span, 4-pound drone, armed with a live camera.
Despite official assurances that the drone would only be used for search and rescue efforts, the Sheriff has previously suggested that the drone could be used to hunt for marijuana farms, and “track suspects with guns,” referring to such operations as “proactive policing.”
The device can also be fitted with thermal imaging devices that would allow police to see inside buildings, as well as license plate readers and laser radar.
An internal memo from the Sheriff’s Office dated July 20 also indicated that the department identified uses for the drone, including monitoring barricaded suspects, investigative and tactical surveillance, intelligence gathering, tracking suspicious persons and overseeing large crowd control disturbances.
After Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization earlier this year, requiring the FAA to permit the operation of drones weighing 25 pounds or less, observers predicted that anything up to 30,000 spy drones could be flying in U.S. skies by 2020.
As we reported in October, the Department of Homeland Security announced in a solicitation that it would be testing small spy drones at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, signaling that the devices will be used for “public safety” applications in the near future.
Much larger drones are already being used in law enforcement operations across the country. The most infamous case involved the Brossart family in North Dakota, who were targeted for surveillance with a Predator B drone last year after six missing cows wandered onto their land. Police had already used the drone, which is based at Grand Forks Air Force Base, on two dozen occasions beforehand.
Police departments are also attempting to get approval to use surveillance blimps that hover over cities and watch for “suspicious activity.”
The U.S. Army recently tested a football field-sized blimp over the city of New Jersey. The blimp can fly for a period of 21 hours and “is equipped with high-tech sensors that can monitor insurgents from above.”
Recently released FAA documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that the FAA gave the green light for surveillance drones to be used in U.S. skies despite the fact that during the FAA’s own tests the drones crashed numerous times even in areas of airspace where no other aircraft were flying.
The documents illustrate how the drones pose a huge public safety risk, contradicting a recent coordinated PR campaign on behalf of the drone industry which sought to portray drones as safe, reliable and privacy-friendly.
Infowars.com is announcing the first ever drone mob event on Saturday, December 8, 2012 at Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Road, in Austin, Texas.
Alex is also announcing a $1000.00 prize for the best drone video filmed at the event.Participants will have two weeks to upload their videos to YouTube for consideration. Rules to follow.
The exact time and Zilker park location will be sent out via Twitter, so be sure to follow us @PrisonPlanet for more details. Can’t make it to Austin for the event? Join the conversation on Twitter and use the hashtag ‘#DroneMob’ to spread the word and post drone articles, photos and more.
Stand up for your freedom December 8, 2012 with Infowars: #DroneMob.
Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, andPrisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.
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