It’s not anti-technology, nor anti-police, to say that the current and coming proliferation of law-enforcement drones in Southern California is a cause for concern. And of course the little machines have their uses — many of them.
If you were a hiker fallen into an otherwise inaccessible canyon in the hills and a mountain-rescue squad’s remote-controlled aircraft found you, you would not bemoan any intrusion on your privacy.
If you were in a burning high-rise Downtown and a Fire Department drone peered into your window looking for those who might need rescuing, you wouldn’t run and hide.
But the plain fact is that rare is the high-tech surveillance gadget, or military-grade hardware or vehicle, that once possessed by law enforcement, hasn’t been used in ways that run counter to our constitutionally guaranteed rights of privacy and free assembly.
A report by the American Civil Liberties Union released last month about the use of drones by police agencies contains cautionary tales about what’s to come, very quickly, if citizens don’t speak out.
“A world where flying robotic police cameras constantly crisscross our skies is one we have never seen before,” Jay Stanley, ACLU senior policy analyst, wrote in the report. “Yet there are strong reasons to believe that such a world may be coming faster than most people realize.”
“Many police departments are eager to deploy the new technology, but few are sharing specific information with the public about how, when or why the drones are being used,” Salvador Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reported after the ACLU analysis was released.
The report reminds us that while many “departments have long used fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for some aerial surveillance, drones are far cheaper and can therefore be used by many more departments and in much greater numbers. Widespread police use of drones would be a major change, with implications foreseeable and not.”
As police departments gear up to apply to the FAA for BVLOS — beyond the visual line of sight — drone use, those of us who will find ourselves constantly surveilled need to weigh in to say that we don’t want to perpetually be on camera from police eyes in the sky.