On Thursday Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced he was putting an end to SPD's controversial drone (or unmanned aircraft) program. The decision came just one day after a charged committee meeting in which proposed legislation brought forward by City Councilmember Bruce Harrell to regulate SPD's use of drones was discussed -- and largely crucified by the public on hand.
One of the people on hand to question aspects of the proposal was Chris Stearns, the chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission. And though he didn't drop any f-bombs or compare Seattle's intended use of drones to Nazi Germany, Stearns did make clear that his commission had serious reservations about the use of drones, and in particular parts of Harrell's proposed legislation.
Specifically, Stearns and the Human Rights Commission wanted the ordinance - which is moot for the time being, but perhaps not forever - to make the collection of inadvertent data by the drones illegal, and give citizens the right to sue the City and police force for breaking this rule. In the form it was being discussed Wednesday, Harrell's proposal did neither thing.
One of the drones SPD will be returning.
While Stearns says the Human Rights Commission isn't against drones altogether, he says protecting citizens' privacy and civil liberties is of the utmost importance.
And, on that note, he says it's only a matter of time before Seattle will have to face the issue of surveillance again.
"As Council Members pointed out yesterday, this is something that SPD should have run by the public first, rather than spending over $80,000 first and then having to ask for permission from the City Council," Stearns said Thursday as news of McGinn's decision to scrap the drone project broke.
"While the debate over these drones is over for the time being, it's still just a matter of time before we as a City and citizens will have to confront the issue of surveillance again," Stearns continued. "The Commission isn't against drones period. What the Commission is against is using evidence collected by the drones in court against people without a warrant. We wanted to be sure that SPD and the Council had the right balance in terms of protecting privacy and due process rights."
You can bet that whenever these future discussions on surveillance transpire, Stearns and the Human Rights Commission will be at the table.