Target: Seattle police chief John Diaz
Goal: Thank the city for dismantling the police drone program
Across the nation and the globe, the use of drones has become one of the most controversial and contested issues of the day. Having gained notoriety on the battlefield, the unmanned aerial vehicles have seen extensive use as a means of clandestine intelligence gathering and tactical strikes against suspected enemy targets. To the great dismay and ire of many people around the world, these attacks have left myriad people dead, many of them innocent victims who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.
More recently, the flying machines have made their way stateside, often serving in a security and surveillance capacity. A number of police departments have acquired drones and have been using them to observe and sometimes to spy on people, suspects, and properties within their jurisdiction. This has greatly amplified the power of police forces, creating an atmosphere where regular citizens must be afraid of the eye in the sky that could be watching them. In this light it comes as a great relief that the city of Seattle, Washington has decided to put an end to its fledgling drone program.
Upon receiving approval from the federal government in 2012, Seattle began preparing the drone program and training operators to fly the machine in the hopes of getting the program off the ground in early 2013. The police department was met with a pronounced public outcry spearheaded by various civil rights activists and privacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union.
The city had purchased the two three-and-a-half pound helicopter drones with the intent of using them in hostage situations and as part of a general approach to public safety. It was hoped that the drones would help keep costs down, as the city would need to employ less manpower in certain situations. However, the ACLU and other groups argued the case that the chance of misuse was simply too high—the possession of drones gave the police entirely too much power and that they could easily use the devices to infringe upon residents civil liberties. They will instead be using the funds and energy to focus on community outreach, community building, and public safety initiatives.
This is a monumental win for those who fight for our civil liberties and our freedom from oppression. In an era where people are all too quick to trade liberty for security, it is refreshing to see an institutional power relent and respect citizens’ rights. Thank the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department for grounding their drone program.
Dear Chief Diaz,
The city of Seattle was in the first wave of American cities to receive federal approval of and funding towards the purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to be used in civilian police work. Unsurprisingly, the program was met with hostility and distrust. Some of this distrust and skepticism was justifiable; there is no denying that the use of drones would have made it far easier for operators and law enforcement agencies to essentially spy on unassuming Seattle residents.
It relieves me that you and your department heard these cases out and have decided to dismantle the drone program even though it was still in its infancy. The funds that were allocated towards it can and will be used in a number of productive ways that will help bolster public safety and will help strengthen Seattle’s communities. Most importantly, the basic civil rights that are afforded to the people of Seattle and all Americans will be protected. Safety from crime is important, but so is safety from an abusive and intrusive government.
You have helped take a great step forward in protecting our civil liberties, Chief Diaz, and although losing the drone program may sting now, please be assured that you did more for the people of Seattle than you may ever know. Thank you for your decision, sir.
[Your Name Here]