CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In a 3-2 vote, members of the Charlottesville City Council adopted a resolution drafted by The Rutherford Institute which urges the Virginia General Assembly to prevent police agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with anti-personnel devices such as tasers and tear gas and prohibit the government from using data recorded via police spy drones in criminal prosecutions. In so doing, Charlottesville has become the first city in the country to limit the use of police spy drones, providing momentum and inspiration for other cities across the country to follow suit.
The passage of the resolution, which also places a two-year moratorium on the use of drones within city limits, coincides with a Department of Justice memo leaked to the media which outlines the Obama administration’s rationale for assassinating U.S. citizens via drone strike. With at least 30,000 drones expected to occupy U.S. airspace by 2020, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, has called on government officials at the local, state, and federal level to do their part to safeguard Americans against the use of drones by police. Rutherford Institute attorneys have drafted and made available to the public language that can be adopted at all levels of government in order to address concerns being raised about the threats posed by drones to citizens’ privacy.
“It’s our hope that the rest of the country will follow Charlottesville’s lead in establishing clear limits on the use of drone technology, especially by law enforcement agencies,” said Whitehead. “The Obama administration’s unapologetic rationale for using drones to kill U.S. citizens sends a clear and urgent message about the need to limit the government’s use of these devices domestically. We cannot afford to be lulled into a sense of complacency by legislation placing temporary moratoriums on drones. As with other weapons of war which have become routine weapons of compliance domestically, such as tasers and sound cannons, once drones are unleashed on the American people, there will be no limiting their use by government agencies.”
The FAA Reauthorization Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, authorized the use of drones domestically for a wide range of functions, both public and private, governmental and corporate. Prior to this, drones had been confined to military use in the battlefields over Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet as attorney John Whitehead points out, without proper safeguards, these drones, some of which are deceptively small and capable of videotaping the facial expressions of people on the ground from hundreds of feet in the air, will usher in a new age of surveillance in American society. Not even those indoors, in the privacy of their homes, will be safe from these aerial spies, which can be equipped with technology capable of peering through walls. In addition to their surveillance capabilities, drone manufacturers have confirmed that drones can also be equipped with automatic weapons, grenade launchers, tear gas, and tasers. Many local police departments throughout the country, including in Florida and California, have already begun utilizing drones in police procedures without any real regulations in place. In calling on local lawmakers to be proactive in safeguarding their constituents against drones, Whitehead is urging them to adopt a “trickle up” mindset by thinking nationally, but acting locally, noting that “when either state or national governmental entities overstep constitutional bounds, it is imperative that our local government address these issues.”