Law Enforcement Drones Raising Big Brother Fears across the Country


Drones are becom­ing more com­mon­place in the US for domes­tic law enforce­ment sur­veil­lance. While they’re well known for the US military’s use of the tech­nolo­gies over the skies of Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re com­mon­ly used now by police to record video images and pro­duce heat maps to bet­ter main­tain secu­ri­ty when track­ing flee­ing crim­i­nals, strand­ed hik­ers, or even polit­i­cal pro­test­ers. It’s also a way for police depart­ments to pull heli­copters out of the sky and save mon­ey when bud­gets are tight. Drones have also caused con­cerns and fears over exces­sive gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance.

This trend has prompt­ed sev­er­al local and state law­mak­ers across the coun­try out­lines struc­tures on how they can be used by police, and some are con­sid­er­ing whether the sys­tems should be ground­ed alto­geth­er. For many peo­ple, it’s an eerie pres­ence that they’re rather not see hov­er­ing on the hori­zon. “To me, it’s Big Broth­er in the sky,” said Dave Nor­ris, a city coun­cil­man in Char­lottesville, Va. Nor­ris and his col­leagues want to put safe­guards on the drones to make sure they’re not abused. Char­lottesville recent­ly became the first city in the coun­try to restrict the use of drones.

The Seat­tle Police Depart­ment recent­ly agreed to return its two still-unused drones to the man­u­fac­tur­er after May­or Michael McGinn answered pub­lic protests by ban­ning their use. In Oak­land, Calif., the Alame­da Coun­ty Board of Super­vi­sors lis­tened to the coun­ty sheriff’s pro­pos­al to use fed­er­al mon­ey to buy a four-pound drone to help his offi­cers track sus­pect­ed crim­i­nals — and then lis­tened to rau­cous oppo­si­tion from the anti-drone lob­by. Drones are becom­ing the focus of debate in gov­ern­ments across the coun­try as new con­cerns are being raised reg­u­lar­ly.



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