San Francisco Votes To Allow Killer Robots

Plus: Same-sex marriage bill passes Senate, Montana "mountain man" takes property rights case to SCOTUS, and more...


San Francisco cops can use killer robots. It sounds like something out of a science fiction dystopia but, alas, it's all too real. On Tuesday, San Francisco supervisors approved a "Law Enforcement Equipment Policy" proposal that allows local police to use various types of robots, and stipulates that these robots can "be used as a deadly force option."

The equipment policy proposal covers the use of seven different types of robots, including one "heavyduty robot" with "stair climbing ability and an arm capable of lifting over 85lbs" as well as "dragon runners," which "can be remotely operated from many hundreds of meters away." It says these robots can be used in "training and simulations, criminal apprehensions, critical incidents, exigent circumstances, executing a warrant or during suspicious device assessments."

"Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD," it continues.

Yes, this language limits the use of deadly robot force to specific circumstances. And "supervisors amended the proposal Tuesday to specify that officers could use robots only after using alternative force or de-escalation tactics, or concluding they would not be able to subdue the suspect through those alternative means," notes the Associated Press.

But the fact that it permits it at all is worrying. And the rules relating to deadly use of robot force aren't really that strict. Police can characterize all sorts of situations as potentially threatening to people's lives.

Unsurprisingly, the policy has garnered all sorts of opposition from civil liberties groups.

"Police technology goes through mission creep–meaning equipment reserved only for specific or extreme circumstances ends up being used in increasingly everyday or casual ways," warned the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "We've already seen this with military-grade predator drones flying over protests, and police buzzing by the window of an activist's home with drones."

Under the language in San Francisco's new policy, "police could bring armed robots to every arrest, and every execution of a warrant to search a house or vehicle or device," said EFF. "Depending on how police choose to define the words 'critical' or 'exigent,' police might even bring armed robots to a protest."

"Killer robots will not make San Francisco safer," tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California. "Police kill Black and Brown people at epidemic rates, and remote triggers are easier to pull."

"We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge," Tifanei Moyer, a senior staff attorney at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, told Mission Local. "This is not normal. No legal professional or ordinary resident should carry on as if it is normal."

San Francisco isn't the only California city to consider use-of-force by robots. The city of Oakland recently debated using deadly robots; plans to do so were eventually scrapped.

"Cities across California are currently drafting new policies on the use of military weapons by local police forces, thanks to a state law called AB 481, which passed last year," notes Mission Local:

Figuring out the force options of robots is one small part of the law's remit.

The law mandates that every police force in California must annually report its stock of all military-style weapons, their cost, how they can be used, and how they were deployed in the prior year. The law gives local authorities — in San Francisco's case, the Board of Supervisors — the ability to annually reject or accept the rules governing how the weapons are used.

In an 8–3 vote Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved of giving police the option to use deadly robots.

"The San Francisco Police Department said it does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to arm robots with guns," notes the Associated Press. "But the department could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges 'to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect' when lives are at stake, SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement."


Same-sex marriage bill passes Senate. The Senate has passed a same-sex marriage bill that's being praised by liberals and panned by conservatives. But the bill itself doesn't actually do very much. It does not, for instance, say that states must allow same-sex marriages, nor that they must recognize legal same-sex marriages from other states. Instead, it codifies that that the federal government must recognize any marriage legal in the state where it was performed.

"The bill was passed 61 to 36, with 60 votes needed for passage," reports Reuters. "Twelve Republicans joined 49 Democrats in supporting the bill. One Democrat, Georgia's Raphael Warnock, was absent, as were two Republican senators."


Montana "mountain man" takes property rights case to the Supreme Court. Here's a good overview of a property rights case that the Supreme Court will hear soon. It involves self-described "mountain man" Wil Wilkins of Ravalli County, Montana. The previous owner of his property signed an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to allow an access road through it. "That agreement permitted the Forest Service to build and maintain this unpaved access road through the private property, now owned by Wilkins and his few neighbors along the road, into the national forest, primarily for purposes of timber harvesting and general maintenance," notes Jeff McCoy, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing Wilkins in this case. But the road was not supposed to be for public use.

"Unfortunately, it soon became clear the government was not abiding by the terms of the original agreement," writes McCoy. "Wilkins says that after the Forest Service posted signs encouraging public use of the road for visitors seeking entry to the national forest, traffic and parking increased dramatically. Wilkins and his neighbor have endured trespassing on their property and even theft—someone stole a pair of elk horns he had mounted on his porch."


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