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Originally published Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 12:03 AM

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Put a policy leash on police drones

Local law enforcement needs to respect the concerns raised by citizens and legal experts over the use of high-tech police tools.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Just say "no" to the drones and the panopticon. MORE
The SPD has not even come close to regaining our trust yet. Lest people start forge... MORE
@ moderator, I am getting sick and tired of people that use a thread to air opinions... MORE


The use and deployment of new law-enforcement technology needs to be grounded in a respect for the legal rights of those they are ultimately intended to help protect.

New, dazzling, available and subsidized are not the criteria for police and sheriff departments to start flying drones or taking fingerprints at a traffic stop.

Protesters turned up at an informational hearing hosted by the Seattle Police Department to introduce the public to an unmanned-aerial vehicle SPD is eager to use.

The camera systems no doubt have their advantages in chasing bad guys, looking for missing persons or surveilling emergencies.

The equally logical fear is a slide into a casual application for police activities that might violate personal rights — the unintended consequences of using a system that can go lots of places and see lots of things.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington has raised good points about setting down rules and limits on the use of drones — not police policies, but city ordinances with some teeth.

The ACLU even proposes seeking a warrant from a judge before drones are used. Why not? Emergencies can be anticipated with protocols and policies, but the general use of a broadly intrusive technology needs oversight, like tapping phones and monitoring online activity.

The King County Sheriff’s Office has new technology that allows for fingerprints to be instantly read in the field. The use and storage of the data needs definitions and restrictions to ensure rights are protected and abuses are not encouraged and tolerated.

Seattle Police Department is struggling with oversight and management of its police operations. Rules and procedures, combined with training and supervision, work for the benefit of the public and law enforcement. High-tech equipment fits into the equation as well.

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