American police officers may soon be able to use unmanned aircraft not only for surveillance, but also for offensive action. The drones may be equipped to fire rubber rounds and tear gas.
“Those are things that law enforcement utilizes day in and day out, and in certain situations it might be advantageous to have this type of system on the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle),” Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas told The Daily news app as he outlined the possible development.
The US military and CIA have used drones armed with lethal weapons to target militants overseas for years. The prospect of having “lite” versions of those remotely controlled killer-machines circling over America gave some second thoughts to rights groups.
“It’s simply not appropriate to use any force, lethal or non-lethal, on a drone,” Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told CBSDC.
She explained that an officer operating an armed drone from afar would simply not have the same understanding of a situation that an officer on location would have. So judgment on the use of force would be limited by this narrowness of observation.
“An officer at a remote location far away does not have the same level of access,” she explained.
ACLU is also worried about the general atmosphere of pervasive surveillance that may engulf America as the use of drone technology becomes wider.
“We don’t need a situation where Americans feel there is an invisible eye in the sky,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at ACLU.
“The prospect of people out in public being Tased or targeted by force by flying drones where no officer is physically present on the scene,” Crump added, “raises the prospect of unconstitutional force being used on individuals.”
There are other potential threats of a wide fleet of armed drones operating in a country. For instance, their communication is not tamper-proof, as the recent downing of an American spy drone by Iran showed. So malignant hackers may take over control of a police UAV and use it for nefarious ends.
The US Federal Aviation Administration allowed several public safety agencies to use drones domestically with fewer restrictions last week. UAVs weighting up to 11.3 kilos can now be operated by police, fire and similar departments without special approval.
The step moves forward a campaign for broader use of drones in America, which was launched by Congress in mid-February.