Open Letter to Mayor Frey, Public Safety Commissioner Dr. Alexander and Members of the Minneapolis City Council,
We, the undersigned organizations, strongly object to the Minneapolis Police Departments proposal to purchase and use Drones.
The Minneapolis Police department is currently under investigation by both the MN department of Human Rights and the US Department of Justice for violations of civil rights. This is a police department that has shown it cannot be trusted to protect the rights of Minneapolis residents and routinely flouts local and state law. This is not the time to give them access to a powerful new technology.
Drones often possess highly advanced surveillance capabilities, with some versions equipped with cameras that can scan entire cities, or alternatively, zoom in and read a milk carton from 60,000 feet. While this makes them incredibly useful tools in specific circumstances, these new powers drastically shift the balance of power between the public and law enforcement, and pose a serious threat to our essential human rights to privacy, peaceful protests and free speech.
Given the MPDs history and the technologies potential for abuse, we urge the Mayor and the Council to halt the process of MPD acquiring drones until such time as the city has in place a comprehensive oversight framework for regulating all surveillance and military technology.
Safety Not Surveillance
Restore the Fourth Minnesota
Center for Victims of Torture
Asian American Organizing Project
Legal Rights Center
What you need to know
The city is accepting public comment on their proposed Drone use policies, which you can submit online or in person at the August 24 at 1:30 p.m. at the Public Health & Safety Committee. You can read a “drones 101” explainer here, and learn more about the statewide drone law here.
The city should delay giving MPD any new tech without first adopting guardrails and protections
- MN state law on drones is the floor, city can and should add greater controls
- Currently Many exceptions to the search warrant process and most drone use is done without a warrant.
Many Law enforcement departments have drones across the state but MPD in particular needs additional scrutiny
- In violation of local and state laws—DOJ and Human rights dept investigations
- Pattern of Racial discrimination
- History of failing to hold officers accountable for misconduct
- Targeting of Protestors/journalists, public demonstrations
- No ongoing oversight/transparency mechanism in place, only standard reporting policies
MPD only has to go through this public process once.
- Drones are a carrier tech, other tech can be attached to them to increase capability
- As time goes on, Technology will become cheaper and more powerful.
- MPD can purchase and use new kinds of drones after going through this process, without any additional oversight mechanisms
OVERALL: The city should delay giving MPD new tech without installing a comprehensive oversight and transparency process that would ensure this tech is not abused
Critical Questions yet to be answered by the city:
- What kind of Drones are they purchasing? How many?
- No fiscal note included–Is this a Gift? A Donation? A grant? One time or ongoing?
- What technology will be used with the drone?
- Video surveillance is largely a given, but what about audio surveillance? Signals intelligence? Cell phone tracking?
- State law prohibits using weapons with drones. Does this include “non lethal” crowd control?
- The protocols section in the proposal are largely placeholders for the drone program director to fill in with protocols at a later date, is this acceptable?
- What guarantee do we have that the drones will only be used for training or emergencies and not protests or other surveillance, when the stated standard the policy grants much broader discretion to law enforcement? You just need reasonable suspicion of criminal activity (IE, stop and frisk)
- What is the role of public safety director and the Mayor? Who could take proactive action to block this purchase? Who is drafting these policies, and can strengthen or weaken them?
- Even if the answers to all of the above questions are acceptable at the moment, how can we ensure they will continue to be into the future?