A proposal by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office to begin using a drone for various purposes drew a large crowd to the chambers of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The cops say they want to fly the drone to patrol remote parts of the county and use it to assist in search and rescue operations. They promise not to use it to spy on people because they are staunch supporters of the 4th Amendment and would not violate anyone's privacy. If you believe this, I have some beachfront property in Arizona for sale.
The written proposal submitted by the department has so many holes you could play it as a wind instrument. The department's protestations not withstanding, there is nothing in the proposal which would prevent them from using the drone to monitor assemblies, demonstrations and other constitutionally protected actions. It is no accident everyone who stood up to speak on the issue opposed it. The American Civil Liberties Union says this idea raises serious civil liberty questions.
The Alameda County Sheriff, and his minions, are shocked...shocked their integrity is being impugned and they are not trusted to keep their word. Really? There is no organization in this nation less concerned about privacy, and protecting people from unreasonable search and seizure, than law enforcement. The history of this country is one of constant pressure, by the police and federal agencies, to water down or eviscerate the 4th amendment. Law enforcement is the premier engine behind the dilution of any number of our protected rights. They operate under the moral ethos the end justifies the means, which gives them license to pick and choose which constitutional protections to observe or ignore.
A recent report sighted frequent instances of police lying and committing perjury in criminal trials. Former San Francisco police commissioner, and dean of the Golden Gate School of Law, Peter Keane is on the record describing how police are incentivized to lie. Prosecutors suborn perjury from the police. They also deliberately withhold evidence of innocence from defense lawyers. (There isn't enough space here to list all the examples of people freed from jail after it was discovered the police and prosecutors had conspired to lie and cheat them, but look up the case of Sen. Ted Stevens if you want a classic example.)
If you need further proof, you might remember former President George Bush (43) ordering the National Security Agency to ignore the 4th amendment and illegally wire tap and spy on American citizens. You will also remember Congress, Democrats and Republicans including Barack Obama, voted to approve such spying and immunize the telecom companies who violated their terms of agreement and rolled over for the federal government.
The Alameda County Sheriff says they would never compromise anyone's privacy while using the drone. When Occupy Oakland was engaged in confrontations with Oakland police and elected officials, do you think anyone would have hesitated to use the drone to survey the crowd, take pictures, and give logistical support to the Oakland police?
In Seattle, the mayor had to abandon a plan to let police use a drone for surveillance when it became know to the public. Thank goodness. What clichés do you prefer on this subject? The Sheriff's proposal is the camel's nose under the tent...a slippery slope we could easily slide down....all the king's horses and all the king’s men won't be able to put the constitution back together again...Cliches may be hokey, but they get to be clichés because they contain an element of truth and such is the case with this drone proposal.
As drone technology becomes less and less expensive, and easier to use and maintain, police agencies across the land will fight to get permission to use it. They will say it's a money saving measure and the drone will relieve manpower of specific duties freeing them to protect you. They will play on your fear and fiscal concerns. They will ask you again to trade liberty for security, hoping you don't remember Ben Franklin's admonishment those who make such a bargain get neither.
There are those who say we have already lost the battle over privacy. They sight evidence young people who use Face Book, Twitter, Tumblr, Google or Instagram have already given up any expectation of privacy. Add to this the suggestion of a national database, for immigration purposes, which would contain all your pertinent information, and any rational person can see the cause it lost.
I don't care. I will continue to fight for any shred of privacy I can and hope you will too.
Communities need to agitate and lobby to keep from losing any more ground. We cannot give law enforcement any more ways to spy and infiltrate our family and friends at their most intimate moments.
The Sheriff will try again. Police agencies in San Francisco, Seattle and all over the nation will continue to pressure for access to this technology. Whether they succeed is totally up to you. In Seattle, they won for now. It's time to replicate their victory in cities and towns as people wake up to the danger to their civil liberties technology represents.