Seattle to use pilotless drones as tool for police

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SEATTLE —

The Seattle Police Department will soon use controversial pilotless drone aircraft as a tool in some operations, causing worry for some about privacy and civil rights.

 

The federal government has used drones for years in military warfare and border protection.

 

The unit police showed the Seattle City Council last May is tiny, quiet and has sensitive cameras, including an infrared eye that can see in the dark.

 

Police envision a variety of ways to use it, including during standoffs, but know that the use of the device has to consider privacy rights.

 

According to the Police Department’s operating manual concerning the device, "...the onboard cameras will be turned ... away from occupied structures, to minimize inadvertent video or still images of uninvolved persons."

 

The draft manual also says, "All video and still images will be maintained in strict compliance with SPD policies and procedures,” addressing concerns that the images could be misused.  The manual specifically forbids "random surveillance."

 

The Draganflyer X-6 weighs 4.5 pounds, travels up to 30 mph and can fly as high as 8,000 feet.  Though it’s not large, it’s big enough to potentially do harm if it crashed into people or other aircraft.

 

The manual addresses safety, saying the operator should "never take unnecessary risks,” and gives the operator absolute authority "to reject a flight based on personnel safety or violation of FAA regulations." 

 

It says no one, regardless of rank, can order an operator to fly the drone when the operator decides it's unsafe.

 

The public can comment on the use of the drone Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Garfield Community Center in Seattle.