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Alameda County sheriff wants a drone


Drone – Customs and Border ProtectionAlameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern wants a drone, according to a report in the Oakland Tribune.

Drones are unmanned aircraft with high-tech surveillance capabilities. According to the report, Ahern is looking at a model that would cost between $50,000 and $100,000 and would be paid for by the Department of Homeland Security.

The drone would be used to find marijuana grows, for search and rescue missions, and other tasks.

Opponents of the plan cite privacy and civil liberties concerns.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California wrote in a blog post on its website in response to the sheriff’s plan, “Drones raise enormous privacy concerns and can easily be abused. Before any drone acquisition proceeds, we need to ask a threshold question – are drones really necessary in our community? – and have a transparent and democratic process for debating that question.”

Drones have been a controversial topic for some time, and one that our sister site, California Watch, and parent organization, the Center for Investigative, have covered in depth.

In July, the Texas Department of Public Safety signed a $7.4 million contract with a Swiss company to buy a high-altitude spy plan equipped with $1 million in surveillance cameras with high-resolution and thermal-imaging capabilities. Authorities told CIR that they expect the plane to arrive some time next year, after which the state police say it will largely be used for border patrol purposes.

Drones are used along the U.S. border to detect people trying to cross illegally and to find drugs. In June, the Department of Homeland Security released a report showing the quarter-billion dollar program produced a disappointing number of successes, according to a CIR story. Critics, including Border Patrol agents, argued that the pilotless aircraft do not perform as well as piloted ones. From the story:

They point to what they view as the program’s meager returns since it began in 2006, as the drones have assisted in the seizure of nearly 50,000 pounds of drugs and the detention of about 7,500 people.

By comparison, decades-old P-3 Orion propeller planes, which once hunted submarines for the Navy, in the past five years have aided in the seizure or disruption of 863,000 pounds of drugs – including 148,000 pounds of cocaine last year alone. Agency officials have described the plane as an 'unsung hero.'

The drones also required extensive maintenance and were often kept on the ground due to weather.

Read more about drones on California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

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