Monday, April 8, 2013

Drones Over San Mateo County?

Today I was dismayed to learn through local newspaper outlets that the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department won approval for federal funds to purchase an aerial drone through the Urban Areas Security Initiative. 

The City of San Mateo, including the San Mateo Police Department, was NOT involved in the decision to request or apply for the aerial drone. 

As your Mayor and Councilmember, I am opposed to the use of military hardware such as aerial drones over American Cities, especially the City of San Mateo.  I have sent an email to San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks asking for clarification on how the decision to purchase aerial drones was made, and why the public, including the San Mateo City Council, was not involved in the discussion.

I will continue to seek answers to this very troubling topic. 

My Letter to San Mateo County Sheriff Munks

Dear Sheriff Munks,

I was dismayed to read in the local media this evening that the County of San Mateo won approval of a military-style aerial drone for use over the communities of San Mateo.  While I understand that funding for the equipment may be delayed due to sequestration issues, I am nonetheless troubled that as the Mayor of one of the largest communities in San Mateo County, I am learning about this issue for the first time via the media.

Was there any outreach to local communities over this issue?  Were there public meetings to discuss the potential uses of this equipment?  While I understand that much of the federal funding goes for training and other vital equipment that helps local law enforcement agencies protect our communities, as you know aerial drones carry legitimate issues regarding privacy rights and civil liberties.  If I missed notification on this important topic, I apologize for the oversight, and ask for a chance to discuss this with you at your earliest convenience. 

On behalf of the residents of the City of San Mateo, I would like to discuss the planned uses of an aerial drone over the City of San Mateo prior to acquisition of such a device.  I also plan to bring this issue up at public meetings and before the entire City Council of San Mateo to discuss formulation of a policy on this issue.

Thank you for your time and service to our community, and I look forward to your response.
Mayor David Lim
San Mateo City Council
Drone funding approved for San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department, Lockheed-Martin

San Mateo County’s request for money to purchase a drone was approved last month, but county officials said Monday that plans to deploy the controversial robot are not moving forward.

A grant of $70,000 for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to buy a small surveillance drone dubbed a “fully autonomous first responder” by developer Lockheed-Martin was approved March 14 by the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative, which doles out money to local law enforcement for counterterrorism activities.

San Mateo County’s request for the drone was first reported by the Oakland Tribune. Efforts by other Bay Area law enforcement agencies, including the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, to buy and deploy drones have been abandoned after public outcry.

Drones are a key part of the United States’ international efforts to combat terrorism, but lethal drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan have led to questions over their legality and the rights of due process.

Though the grant to acquire a drone was approved, the device will not be deployed anytime soon, according to a county spokeswoman.

Though the grant to acquire a drone was approved, the federal sequester means those funds are no longer available, and the device will not be deployed unless more money becomes available.

“Unless additional funding becomes available this project will not move forward,” Capt. Mark Wyss wrote in an email.

Drones are used by first responders to gauge the severity of fires and other disasters. The machines can stay in the air for about 25 minutes and transmit high-quality video, including at night using an infrared camera.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:

1 comment:

  1. David,
    Thanks for taking the initiative on this issue. I agree that there are serious questions about civil liberty and invasion of privacy with the prospect of drones over our city. I'm sure you'll keep us apprised of any developments. Thanks again.