Drone Wars

Police surveillance


In 2010 the Seattle Police Department (SPD) purchased two Dragonfly surveillance drones for a total of $82,533. It planned to use them but has not, thanks in part to controversy over domestic use of camera-carrying unmanned aircraft. Yet according to documents obtained by MuckRock, an organization that specializes in filing Freedom of Information Act requests, the department wants to buy two more drones at a cost of $150,000. 

The SPD received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for its drones in April, after President Barack Obama signed a law authorizing the FAA to integrate civilian drones into domestic airspace. The police department's drone plans have led to contentious city council meetings featuring complaints and questions from citizens worried about increased police surveillance powers. Although current SPD guidelines bar using the drones for random surveillance of civilians, the Washington chapter of the American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warns that the department can unilaterally change those guidelines. The ACLU argues drone use should be governed by a city ordinance. 

"So long as it is a policy, it can be changed," ACLU Washington Deputy Director Jennifer Shaw told The Seattle Times in October. "An ordinance cannot be changed at will and is the only way we can be sure there is meaningful input."