A few weeks ago I went to a panel discussion about the domestic use of drones (aerial vehicles without an on-board pilot). In particular, we discussed how our local police force here in St. Louis, Missouri is wanting to buy a drone and also about a “real time intelligence center” connecting surveillance cameras that we ALREADY HAVE set up in over 24 neighborhoods.
I will try and recap some of the highlights from the discussion.
First Speaker: Faizan Syed, from CAIR, or the Council on Islamic Relations. The speaker was born in Pakistan and he mentioned that Pakistanis used to be very pro-American in sentiment; now with drones flying over and their sovereign air-space being breached, he argues that a majority - maybe even a super-majority of people, are actively opposed to the United States now.
This is disheartening and an example of the blowback potential/argument against drone use.
His main point was this: we normalize what we know. He brings up the point that metal wands in airports used to be considered HIGHLY problematic, and there was opposition against the infringement of our civil liberties. Now, it’s commonplace. Wands were only the beginning…
Syed mentioned the economic losses Muslim establishments encountered because people were scared of being caught up in the dragnet that was the NYPD Muslim surveillance program.
Links to horrible stories he referenced:
NYPD Secretly Surveilled Muslim Communities
Homeland Security Act, 2002. This allowed for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Second Speaker: Freddy Chavez, from Latinos in Action (I will withhold providing a link because there are multiple LIA’s according to Google and I’m not 100% on which one Mr. Chavez is from.)
Mr. Chavez discussed the militarization of the border and immigration services. Mr. Chavez, who came into the U.S. as an undocumented person over 30 years ago. Now he is a citizen and he is strongly opposed to immigration services using drones. What stuck out to me about his comments was he said that the border acts as funnel - a bottleneck, and it traps thousand of people from MANY different countries who ultimately want to do what they can do to feed their family.
A link to some of the issues Mr. Chavez remarked on:
Drones on our Borders
U.S. Border Patrol Increases Use of Unmanned Drones for Surveillance
Third Speaker: John Chasnoff, former program director of the ACLU of Missouri.
Chasnoff spoke at length about how data and surveillance footage can easily be mistaken and innocent people can become targeted simply for being in areas of high crime. Chasnoff cited a recent ACLU of Massachusetts study that shows that “police routinely fail to respond to live “hits” alerting them to the location of stolen cars.” What are they using the automatic plate scanners for, then? Well, without all of the info it is hard to say for sure. The ACLU notes that the Boston Police Department targeted communities of color - such as South Boston, and Mattapan - and that this program is “simply compiling vast databases that give officers the ability to retroactively track millions of innocent motorists without a warrant.” The original expose by the Boston Globe, utilizing research put out by investigative journalism group Muckrock, did have a significant impact and the automatic scanning program in Boston has been “indefinitely suspended.”Chasnoff’s main point seemed to be that policies, laws, and outside and public scrutiny are badly needed to catch up with all of the new technology we are seeing become ubiquitous. Guilt by metadata or association is not strong framework to build a thriving community; and it’s not -contrary to emerging belief - scientific or without human error by any means.
Links to the Boston story:
Data suggests Boston police targeted South Boston, Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester with license plate readers.
You don’t build a strong society on fear. You don’t build trust in people who know they are potentially being watched. Citizens have the right to know what police are doing in our cities and a massive and inclusive conversation must be had in regards to new technologies and their impact on our lives. We are entering a new world and the rules are largely yet to be written. Public understanding and input is a demand that we should all be making.
I am looking forward to the final panel series which is to be held next Wednesday, May 21st at the ACLU of Missouri. It’s focus is on mass surveillance.