Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cops With Drones: Technology Vs. Civil Liberties

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For a long time, drones - unmanned aircraft - were used only by the military. Now local law enforcement wants them for police work such as surveillance and search-and-rescue missions. That in turn has sparked a fierce debate over the balance between cutting-edge law enforcement technology and the privacy rights of citizens.

In February, Reason TV covered an Alameda County, California public protection committee meeting in which Sheriff Gregory Ahern announced that he planned on using a laptop-sized drone (he prefers to call it an "unmanned aerial system") for search and rescue. "It's mission specific to search areas for lost children or elderly or Alzheimer's patients to search an area that it would be very difficult for our personnel to get to," said Sheriff Ahern.

Residents and civil liberties advocates are skeptical that drone use would remain so narrowly defined for very long. At the meeting, Linda Lye of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California took issue with the sheriff's submitted draft of a privacy policy. She said it's not specific enough about what the sheriff can and cannot do with drones.



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