You may remember that last year in Oakland, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors held a packed public hearing where members of the community, joined by EFF and ACLU of Northern California, testified for over three hours about worries around Sheriff Greg Ahern’s plan to obtain a drone. The consensus at the hearing was clear—at the hearing, only one attendee spoke in favor of the acquisition.
And yet, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed on Tuesday that Sheriff Ahern decided to go ahead and buy a drone anyhow—and this time he’s doing it with local taxpayer dollars: “Ahern said he decided to spend $97,000 from the county’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to buy two small unmanned aerial surveillance devices.”
Sheriff Ahern seems to think he hasn’t done anything wrong, since he told the Contra Costa Times:“There’s nothing secret about what we’ve done…This is how our department acquires equipment on a regular basis.’”
Here’s the irony: Underlying many of the community’s concerns about the Sheriff’s use of drones is the belief that police can’t be trusted, that they will misuse technology, despite assurances to the contrary, especially in absence of solid policies or controls. By circumventing public process and ignoring the community, Sheriff Ahern has hardly made himself seem more trustworthy. Instead, he’s proved the assumption to be true.
What happens next is unclear. At a press conference today the Sheriff noted that the FAA has not yet authorized the drones, but that he anticipates that they will be “ready to deploy within ‘six months to a year.'” EFF will be using that time to monitor the situation and share our assessment of the problems with this purchase. We hope privacy activists do the same.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com