City Council to consider banning drones

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Berkeley City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a recommendation to adopt a resolution proclaiming Berkeley a “No Drone Zone.”

If approved, the resolution, drafted by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, will attempt to ban the unmanned aerial vehicles from Berkeley airspace and prevent city agencies from purchasing, borrowing, leasing, testing or otherwise using drones over the city. However, the resolution provides certain exemptions, including for some hobbyist use.

“The country nationally and the government is moving toward the greatly expanded use of drones, which were developed for use in combat situations,” said George Lippman, chair of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission. “So there’s concern both about their use in war as well as domestically, and there are civil liberties and safety concerns.”

Concerns about potential drone use locally have risen since the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office considered purchasing a drone in October for use in emergency situations.

“We’re looking at the situation where the sheriff of Alameda County is moving very quickly to acquire drones for the sheriff’s department,” Lippman said. “There are a number of aspects that concern us greatly when this kind of military technology is placed in the hands of law enforcement domestically.”

Lippman said that he was concerned about the safety of drones and possible civil liberties violations resulting from drone use.

The proposed resolution cites a number of accidents in which drones have been involved recently and mentions the susceptibility of drones to electronic interference.

A part of the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act, which was signed into law in February, requires, however, that a plan be put in place for the “safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system as soon as practicable, but not later than September 30, 2015.”

Currently, Berkeley Police Department does not have any drones, according to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Jennifer Coats, and Lippman does not know of any drones that have flown over Berkeley before.

“We’re trying to stall such troubling developments, and we want Berkeley to provide a very positive example in protection of human rights and Berkeley’s values in policing,” Lippman said.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin is concerned about unregulated drone usage but does not support the commission’s recommendation in its current form.

“I’m generally concerned about unfettered use of drones, but then again, in very limited emergency circumstances, it would be appropriate,” Arreguin said. “If drones are allowed, they should be used in very limited emergency circumstances because of the concerns about infringing people’s privacy.”

Arreguin also said that the city cannot say that drones are not allowed to fly over it because air travel is regulated by the FAA.

“We frankly have no legal authority to stop it, but we can certainly can speak out and say we don’t want drones flying over our city,” Arreguin said.

Still, Lippman says that other parts of the resolution could likely be applied because the city can decide not to acquire drones for its own use.

American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California staff attorney Linda Lye added that this is an excellent example of the city sparking participative debate at the local level.

“It’s a very healthy approach to it, rather than unilateral decisions made by law enforcement,” Lye said.

Contact Mitchell Handler [email protected].