Will armed drones be policing American cities?

Illustration for article titled Will armed drones be policing American cities?

Could the next wave of Occupy protests be ripped apart by rubber bullets and tear gas launched by remote-controlled robots hovering overhead, steered by police officers miles away? It's not a futurist scenario anymore. According to CBSDC:

The Federal Aviation Administration has allowed several police departments to use drones across the U.S. They are controlled from a remote location and use infrared sensors and high-resolution cameras. Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office in Texas told The Daily that his department is considering using rubber bullets and tear gas on its drone.

"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)," McDaniel told The Daily . . .

Civil liberties group ACLU is actively trying to stop the adoption of armed UAVs. Catherine Crump, an ACLU attorney, says there are several problems with the idea, but the main one is that police operating drones from a remote location may be shooting without access to all the information they need to make the right decision. Police on the scene can gain a lot more context than ones looking down from a UAV surveillance camera.

Another big issue is computer malfunction. If an armed drone is hacked, or has a bug, it could conceivably start randomly targeting innocents. With police operators miles away, a lot of damage could be done before the drone was stopped.


Crump added that the use of armed drones could actually be interpreted as an unconstitutional use of force.

If this legal battle heats up, we may be about to witness the first constitutional interpretations of the status of robots.


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They will definitely be increasingly used for surveillance and detection, there's no stopping that, and it's been underway for years.

As for carrying weapons of any kind, even in places where this is allowed, it will only stick around until the first accident occurs. The MOMENT somebody is injured by a weapons-carrying drone, or gets chemical burns from an improperly deployed canister, or is crashed-into an injured by a hacked one, they all go away. This is why only the spying-from-afar models are going to stick around.