Wary of Mass Surveillance and Privacy Risks, New Group Wants St. Louis "Drone Free"

Categories: Police, Politics

I'd say that when I first heard rumors that Glenn Greenwald was saying that the government is watching our emails, I said 'no, that's a gross exaggeration, that couldn't be possible.' And I think that as things develop politically and culturally, what's happening on the cutting-edge always seems like it's not going to go mainstream. But we've seen this problem for quite some time and anybody who sits down and studies what's been going on with the NSA and the history and technology of what's been happening with surveillance will realize that this is a trend that's really moving very quickly in a certain direction.

One of the phrases that the police are now using is "intelligence-led" [also known as "hot spot"] policing. For many years, we've had community-oriented policing. And that still exists to some extent. But it's being subsumed by this new phrase and new concept of "intelligence-led" policing. And some departments are really moving in the direction of more and more data collection and the drones are really a part of that.

Chief Sam Dotson/Twitter
Chief Dotson is a big proponent of drones and "intelligence-led" policing.

Drones flying around watching our every move might sound scary, but St. Louis City Police Chief Sam Dotson says they keep us safer. He told the Post-Dispatch last year that, "This isn't Big Brother. This is a decision to make everyone in the community safer." What would you say to him?

See also: Chief Sam Dotson, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce Support Use Of Drones In Police Chases

That's always the pitch that we hear. There's the famous Ben Franklin quote that people who give up their liberty for safety deserve neither. What we've found is that we have been scared by a media push and a government push to feel like there are problems around the corner that we need protecting from them. But in my mind, Americans have always been a freedom-loving people and freedom involves certain risks and we've been willing to take those risks. I think if you have a realistic sense of the risks and a realistic sense of what we're giving up to try and protect ourselves against those risks, you'll see that we've gotten way out of balance.


What else do you want to tell St. Louisans about drones and mass surveillance?

Since street surveillance cameras started taking pictures of us on public streets we've developed an attitude that we have no expectation of privacy. To some extent, that's the current state of the law. But the Supreme Court has hinted in a recent case about GPS tracking that they're open to looking into the law and bringing it up to date for 21st century technology.

I think it's important to realize that we don't really expect that we're being watched 24/7, that the data is collected and stored for an indeterminate amount of time, and that anybody and everybody can have access to that information. So I do think there's an expectation of privacy that's being violated if we don't update our laws and put some safety regulation in place. Because what he have now is no regulation on any of those things: who has the data, how long is it kept, who has the access to it.

Follow Ray Downs on Twitter:

E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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