In a scene straight out of a James Bond spy thriller as much as anything even remotely resembling traditional law enforcement, the Seattle Police Department will soon begin adding drone patrols to its day-to-day policing efforts after gaining Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to commence aerial monitoring and surveillance in targeted neighborhoods.
As one of roughly a dozen of law enforcement consortiums, academic institutions and other agencies recently granted FAA approval to begin making use of such unmanned, camera-equipped aerial vehicles, the SPD has already made two such purchases using funds from a grant funded by the Urban Areas Security initiative, prompting some to speculate airspace integration could actually begin as early as late this summer.
Count the American Civil Liberties Union among those wondering and inquiring why so fast. Late last week, the Seattle Times also reported the watchdog agency grew even more leery after top police officials refused to outline just how they intend to fully make use of such equipment, insisting training for operators has only just begun. Behind closed doors, however, some say the department has already begun making plans for using the drones as part of its routine crime enforcement operations.
“The ACLU supports the use of technology to help government accomplish its basic missions,” said ACLU spokesperson Dan Honig. “At the same time, the use of drones can really change people’s relationships with government. If the city of Seattle is going to go ahead and deploy drones, leaders need to develop clear and transparent guidelines for their use.”
As early as last December, ACLU officials published a report intensely calling into question whether current department guidelines and procedures are strong or responsible enough to “ensure such technology will not be used to trample over democratic values.”
Honig has since added that the responsibility of easing the fears and concerns of residents squarely falls on the shoulders of Mayor Mike McGinn, his administration and the city council.
New public policy needs to be drafted,” said Honig. “The Mayor and the City Council need to be the ones to decide what kind of information can be recorded and scrutinized by authorities,” he said, adding that public perception is allowing drones greater access “takes the country a large step closer to a surveillance society.”
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