Drone Wars: Berkeley Considers Ban On Robotic Aircraft

by Todd Woody, Forbes  |  published on December 23, 2012

The city of Berkeley, Calif., this week took the first steps toward a ban on drones as the autonomous aircraft deployed in the war on terrorism are being embraced for local law enforcement.

The debate over creating a No Drone Zone in this famously left-wing stronghold is likely to be repeated across the U.S. as ever-smaller drones equipped with high-definition cameras and sensors take to the skies with the ability to collect vast amounts of data on citizens.

While the Federal Aviation Administration is drafting rules for the deployment of drones in domestic airspace the use of drones to collect information remains largely unregulated.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council considered a resolution drafted by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission that would create an ordinance to ban the use of drones in Berkeley airspace and bar the police department and any other municipal agency from deploying drones. An exemption would be made for hobbyists as long as their drones are flown in non-urban areas and don’t carry cameras. Violators could be fined $10,000 and sentenced to a year in prison.

The resolution was prompted by the Alameda County sheriff’s plans to acquire a surveillance drone, a controversial move in an area with a history of radical activism and police surveillance, from the Berkeley antiwar protests of the 1960s to the Occupy movement uprising in Oakland last year.

“We’re seeing a militarization of police forces throughout the country,” Eugene Ruyle of Veterans for Peace told the city council at the Tuesday meeting as spectators held “No Drone” signs. Ruyle was one of several proponents of the drone ban from groups who expressed fears that drones would be used to spy on citizens.

City council members, however, rejected an outright ban on all drones and questioned Berkeley’s ability to enforce such an ordinance.

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