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Alameda County sheriff's office considers purchasing drones

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OCTOBER 18, 2012

Civilians and civil rights groups raised concerns at a press conference Thursday about the potential purchase by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office of aerial surveillance drones.

The press conference — held at Oakland City Hall — was a reaction to recent plans to seek grant funding for investment in drone technology. The sheriff’s office may be the first in California to invest in drones, and county residents and civil rights groups have since spoken out on this issue.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern is specifically looking into the usage of a four-pound aerial drone capable of live video streaming, according to NBC Bay Area. Ahern has stated that he plans to deploy drones only for emergency use and proactive policing. The sheriff is looking into a federal grant that promotes community policing to fund the drone purchase.

The sheriff’s office could not be reached for comment.

“What does an unmanned aerial vehicle have to do with community policing?” said Oakland attorney Michael Siegel of Siegel & Yee at the press conference.

Representatives from Critical Resistance, a national organization that challenges policing and imprisonment standards, and nonprofit group Electronic Frontier Foundation are challenging the sheriff’s potential drone purchase. The ACLU of Northern California is also speaking out against the plan.

According to staff attorney Linda Lye, the ACLU has submitted a Public Records Act request demanding the sheriff’s response to questions on issues of transparency. She said the request includes inquiries on the financial implications of acquiring and using drones in the county and the safeguards that will be put in place to protect citizens’ privacy.

Lye said the significance of the announcement of potential drone usage just a year after police action sparked controversy at Occupy Oakland but added that Alameda County drone purchases could affect Berkeley as well.

“If Berkeley City Council or Berkeley as a community doesn’t want drones, it isn’t clear they could do anything about it,” said Nadia Kayyali, a legal fellow at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which operates as a part of Coalition for a Safe Berkeley.

Kayyali said the coalition will discuss the sheriff’s possible implementation of a drone project at its next meeting.

Berkeley City Council has not addressed the sheriff’s office’s potential use of drones but might do so in the future, according to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

“It’s just mind-boggling that (the sheriff’s office) would think about doing something like that,” Bates said. “It would be a big mistake to have a drone.”

Contact Libby Rainey at [email protected] .

OCTOBER 18, 2012

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