Earlier this week, the International Association of Chiefs of Police published a set of guidelines for the use of the unmanned aircraft — drones — that have been proliferating across the United States and the world beyond. The guidelines aren't binding but they do give us an "industry standard" to which we can point if any given police department or law-enforcement agency colors too far outside the lines. And yes, one of the points on which the organization's Aviation Committee members agree is that drones shouldn't be lethal. Well, not deliberately so, anyway.
Among the highlights from the IACP's Recommended Guidelines for the use of Unmanned Aircraft:
- Equipping the aircraft with weapons of any type is strongly discouraged. Given the current state of the technology, the ability to effectively deploy weapons from a small UA is doubtful. Further, public acceptance of airborne use of force is likewise doubtful and could result in unnecessary community resistance to the program.
- Where there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the UA will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing and if the UA will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy, the agency will secure a search warrant prior to conducting the flight.
- Unless required as evidence of a crime, as part of an on-going investigation, for training, or required by law, images captured by a UA should not be retained by the agency.
- Law enforcement agencies desiring to use UA should first determine how they will use this technology, including the costs and benefits to be gained. The agency should then engage their community early in the planning process, including their governing body and civil liberties advocates.
The guidelines also include recommendations for notifying the public of drone use, painting drones in high-visibility colors (so both their controllers and the public can see them), notifying residents in areas where drones will be used and tracking and recording their use.
As I mentioned, these guidelines are as binding as any given agency wants them to be, but they provide high-profile standards for law-enforcement, against which their real-world conduct can be measured.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has been watching the drone issue closely, says "The IACP is to be applauded for addressing this issue, and for issuing recommendations that are quite strong in some areas." The ACLU also suggests some further restrictions on use, including tighter warrant requirements for non-emergency deployments of unmanned vehicles.
No armed drones? Skynet will just have to wait a little longer.