February 22, 2013
Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern wants to buy a surveillance drone, or, as he prefers to call it, a “small Unmanned Aerial System.” At a meeting before the county’s Board of Supervisors last week, he claimed that he’d only use the drone for felony cases, not to spy on people or monitor political activists. But a few minutes later he’d seemed to change his mind, adding: “I don’t want to lock myself into just felonies.”
Catcalls and hisses erupted from a crowd of some 100 anti-drone activists. One man later called the proposal “an assault on my community.”
Around the country, a small but growing number of localities are considering the use of domestic drones—aircraft that are smaller, lighter, and cheaper (though not much less controversial) than what the military uses in Afghanistan. Police departments could outfit drones with infrared sensors that see through walls, with facial recognition software, or with technology that intercepts calls and emails. Yet the the federal government doesn’t do much to regulate how drones can use such technologies to collect information on private citizens.