Drones have been in the headlines, both in Alameda County and nationally.
The contrast is striking.
One on hand, we have civil libertarians and others worried about the Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern’s plan to buy a $30k unarmed drone for use in surveillance and search and rescue. The notion of a relatively silent drone is apparently what is setting some people off—urban police departments as well as sheriffs’ offices across the country use helicopters. Even the East Bay Regional Park District has a helicopter, a tool that has come in handy for other law enforcement agencies needing information from the sky.
Ahern has taken his proposal and guidelines for using the drone twice before a sub-committee of the board of supervisors and there was no action so the plan has not moved forward to the entire board. It’s not a matter of expense—the department has a grant to pay for the drone. It seems a few folks are hyped up and putting pressure on the supervisors not to allow it.
How could a drone help—let us count the ways. Think of the Occupy Oakland demonstrations that the mayor botched so badly. Real time aerials would have helped law enforcement managers deploy their personnel correctly so they could manage the situation with the crowd. Same goes for a fleeing suspect.
Alameda County, the bastion of liberalism, is one of the few government agencies across the country that is concerned. When you think of traffic cams, security cams plus people freely using phone cameras, the notion of privacy is a sketchy one.
What’s equally interesting is how little public outcry the Obama White House’s policy on use of armed drones to kill suspected terrorists in foreign countries. The policy allows, even for American citizens, for the White House to be judge and jury and decide to kill people in foreign countries. These strikes have been used in Afghanistan and Pakistan and now have been moved to Yemen and potentially other northern African countries.
The situation with American citizens, who would be ensured due process in the United States, gets murky quickly. For a man who has renounced his citizenship and clearly joined the terrorists, there’s justification for taking him out as an enemy combatant. But, what about his son or daughter who dies in the strike? And, what about an act of war against an individual or individuals in countries with which we have no declared war?
Remember, this is the administration that wanted to put the mastermind of the 9-11 strikes on public trial in New York City until a huge outcry forced those plans to be dropped.
The issues with the unarmed drone in Alameda County are far easier to resolve, yet it is unresolved. Most of us expect our governments to do more with less—drones are an excellent solution to providing intelligence and real-time information for minimal cost.
The debate is also striking given the near molestations that go on in United States airports today in the supposed name of security on airplanes.