Surveillance State: Police Drones Coming to Seattle

A city made famous for its brutal response to protest of the World Trade Organization in 1999, will now be using drones for local law enforcement activity. The Associated Press reports that the Seattle Police Department is drafting a policy on how it will utilize unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones. According to the report the police will be using the drones for “search and rescue operations and at accidents and unusual crime scenes.”

Draganflyer X6, manufactured by Draganfly Innovations based in Saskatoon, Canada, is an electric powered drone that weighs less than 4.4 pounds. It is operated with within line-of-sight by the Pilot in Command (PIC), and can use GPS to hover in one location. It is equipped with a Panasonic DMC-ZS20 camera that takes pictures and videos, as well as FLIR thermal imaging. A short battery life allows for only ten minute flights.

At a public meeting last week, Seattle residents were able to give public comment on the police department’s decision to use drones. The Seattle Times reported that about 100 people attended the meeting, and many of them voiced loud and passionate protests against the use of drones. A 14-page draft of the police department’s drone policy was made available to residents. The document outlines the general operating procedures, including specific situations in which it will be used and naming a Special Operations Bureau Chief as the approving authority.

The use of drones domestically by local law enforcement has been questioned by privacy advocates and civil liberty organizations. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California recently noted, “When law enforcement has powerful and dangerous tools in its arsenal, it will use them. Drones raise enormous privacy concerns and can easily be abused. Before any drone acquisition proceeds, we need to ask a threshold question – are drones really necessary in our community? – and have a transparent and democratic process for debating that question. In addition, if the decision is made to acquire a drone, do we have rigid safeguards and accountability mechanisms in place, so that law enforcement does not use drones to engage in warrantless mass surveillance?”

Trevor Timm, activist for Electronic Frontier Foundation speaks with RT.

Photo: Draganflyer X-6 by Wac6


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