Spies in the sky
ACLU public forum to cover use of drones by local police
By Nick Smith 01/01/2013
While the Second Amendment has been debated in the weeks following the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Fourth Amendment, which provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, will be placed under the proverbial microscope of a concerned Southern California citizenry in the weeks and months to come.
In June, Pasadena Star-News Public Editor Larry Wilson drew attention to a report by KNX News Radio’s Charles Feldman that AeroVironment, a local manufacturer of unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) — the same manufacturer of systems employed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan — has plans to market its Qube® Unmanned Aircraft to an estimated 18,000 local law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
UAVs, or drones, are currently used by the US Air Force for “recording information on domestic situations,” according to Feldman’s report, but guidelines allow additional information gathered incidentally to be shared with the Department of Defense or another government agency. The report further states that Southern California law enforcement agencies are looking into the efficiency of using drones.
According to AeroVironment’s Web site, Qube systems “[transmit] live video directly to the operator at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft.” Smaller (and much quieter) than police helicopters, one might wonder if usage of UAVs could be a reasonable alternative to the Pasadena Police Department’s reliance on helicopter surveillance.
Still, privacy advocates are concerned about the idea of unwarranted and unbridled drone surveillance by their local police.
“There are apparently no rules and regulations of any rigor that have been formulated by Congress,” says former ACLU Pasadena-Foothills Chapter President Kris Ockershauser. “Before we use these things [drones], you have to have some rules and regulations which … prevent intrusive invasion of privacy.”
The Pasadena ACLU is sponsoring a public forum, to be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Neighborhood Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena. Feldman is expected to present his report at the forum, with comments from Wilson and ACLU attorney Peter Bibring, who will also speak about the implementation of strict regulations and accountability procedures as necessary before drones are to be used by local law enforcement agencies