The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California presented a panel discussion and video about technology, domestic spying and surveillance. Those present for the panel discussion before their 2013 election of the Board of Directors, were Matthew Bogosian, a patent attorney, Scott Miller, the Monterey County Sheriff, and Michael Stamp, attorney and professor of constitutional law at the Monterey College of Law. The panel discussion was entitled: "Drones at Home."
The Monterey library conference room was filled to capacity on the sunny January afternoon. There was a question and answer period at the end of the discussion with the audience. The video called, “Trackers, Phones, Drones—Everyone Needs Something to Hide” ran about 10 minutes prior to the panel discussion, and people seemed concerned and interested to know that drones were not only those multimillion dollar planes that the Department of Defense sends to other countries.
Matthew Bogosian brought a drone that he purchased over the Internet with a FedEx label on it. He said he purchased it for under a thousand dollars ($200 - $300). The drone was about the size of flat inner tube and didn’t seem to weigh much, but the video showed drones much smaller with much more capacity to fly as a humming bird while being manned remotely. The demonstration in the video showed drones in a simulated environment as small as birds, and the tiny robot helicopters were flying in a small swarm able to dart here and there with great ease.
Sheriff Scott Miller said that surveillance cameras were routine in helping fight crime, and when he heard about the small inexpensive drones, his immediate thought was to have one available in Monterey County in each squad car’s trunk for the sheer expediency of calls to remote locations. He gave the example of a call for a person stranded on a cliff in Big Sur and how it would take one hour for a squad car to get there. In that scenario, having a miniature drone to send would give law enforcement and emergency workers the ability to have a quick real-time look at what was going on.
Michael Stamp mentioned that 4th amendment constitutional rights could be jeopardized and mentioned that the CAO Lew Bauman, from the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, was present because obviously before any request for the county to pay for these domestic drones, there would have to be a policy in place to allow them. There was some mention that Berkeley is hoping to be a city that has a “no-drone” policy. Everyone chuckled that Berkeley is well…., you know, Berkeley.
But even the conservative “Washington Times’ recently (January 15, 2013) wrote this:
“The War on Terror could transform “The Land of the Free” into a surveillance society. Already, many American city streets and buildings are equipped with invasive video cameras. Smartphones contain GPS chips that track user’s movements. Law enforcement agencies deploy overhead drones to snap high definition photos of subjects on the ground. Some school districts require students to wear ID badges that allow their whereabouts to be traced by school officials. As the government seeks ways to defend us from our enemies, it is crucial that the Freedom of Information Act be preserved as a means of preventing Uncle Sam from attempting to fix his unblinking gaze on us instead.”
Michael Stamp passed out the blog of rights page entitled “Domestic Drones.” On October 12, 2012, the ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act requests with five federal agencies asking for their current practices and future plans regarding domestic drones.
The chilling information was on the back of the page that showed websites of non-military/government agency UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) and systems that can be procured in U.S. cities like Superior, Colorado; Sarasota, Florida; Monrovia, California; Jessup, Maryland; and in the South Carolina region describing them as German quality and built by professionals.
The law has not caught up with the technology, even the FAA laws have not included legislation to protect privacy protections, so the ACLU has recommended that usage limits, data retention, policy, abuse prevention/accountability, and weapons should be clearly spelled out to preserve civilians’ safety and privacy.
One woman commenting during the question and answer period said that she had been an active protester during the Vietnam War era, and again during the Iraq War. She was concerned that her involvement with those activities could make her a "person of interest" with the new surveillance abilities to take photos of people who are participating in protests. She was concerned that her privacy could be jeopardized since if put on a "list" of potential subversives, that that could complicate her personal life. The panel answered that it is all too true that peaceful demonstrators are subject to monitoring and most likely a warrant would not be needed to conduct surveillance on her.
Another person asked about the possibility of a drone mishap and if the hardware inadvertently fell out of the air onto a person and injured them; what recourse they would have if they were injured or if a family member was injured. The concern at the meeting overall was that people's security and privacy would be impinged upon if they fell victim to a search and seizure that is supposed to be a constitutional right guaranteeing their freedom from unlawful search and seizure. One man was concerned that personal and private records like medical and mental health records could be subjected to public data mining with new surveillance technology.
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