A federal law authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surveillance technology, among other military equipment, to national and local police. It threatens privacy, freedom of expression and racial justice.
Congress should therefore do the right thing and adopt Representative Ayanna Pressley’s amendment, Moratorium on the transfer of controlled assets to executing agencies, at HR 4350, on National Defense Authorization Law for Fiscal Year 2022 (NDAA22). This would drastically reduce the amount of dangerous military equipment, including surveillance drones, that could be transferred to local and national law enforcement agencies through the Department of Defense.1033 program. “He has already placed $ 7.4 billion in military equipment with police services since 1990.
The program includes both “controlled” goods, such as weapons and vehicles, and “uncontrolled” goods, such as first aid kits and tents. Pressley’s amendment would prevent the transfer of all “controlled” assets, which include “Unmanned aerial vehicles, ”Or drones. It also includes: piloted aircraft, wheeled armored vehicles, command and control vehicles, .50 caliber specialized firearms and ammunition, breaching devices, and riot batons and shields.
Even without MoD drones landing in our communities, police use of these autonomous flying robots is Rapidly expanding. Some police departments are so eager to get their hands on drones that they have claimed they needed it to help fight COVID-19. The Chicago Police Department even launched an extensive drone program using only unregistered money confiscation of civilian property.
We know what will happen if the police get their hands on more and more military surveillance drones. Technology donated on condition that it can only be used in “extreme” circumstances often ends up being used in daily acts of over-policing. And police have used drones in the past to monitor how people exercise their First Amendment rights.
After the New York City Police Department accused activist Derrick Ingram of injuring an officer’s ears by speaking too loudly into his megaphone during a protest, the police flew drones out of his apartment window—A manifest act of intimidation for activists and demonstrators. The government too flew surveillance drones during several protests against racism and police violence in the summer of 2020. When police fly drones over crowds of protesters, they chill free speech and political expression for fear of reprisals and police reprisals. Police could easily apply facial surveillance technology to footage gathered by a surveillance drone that flew over a crowd, creating a preliminary list of everyone who witnessed that day’s protest.
As the United States ends its decades-long occupation of Afghanistan, military equipment once used in warfare is now approaching redeployment to American streets. Reducing military engagement in Iraq coincided with a massive influx weapons, armed vehicles and other surplus from the Ministry of Defense being injected directly into the police services. We must prevent a repeat of history.
In 2015, after the public backlash against militarized police in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama made some reforms to the 1033 program. More specifically, it banned the transfer to the home front of armored vehicles, planes and armed vehicles, weapons of a higher caliber, grenade launchers and bayonets. But that did not go far enough to ensure that Section 1033 does not contribute to mass surveillance of people on American soil.
We call on the public and members of Congress to support Ayanna Pressley’s amendment, the Moratorium on the transfer of controlled assets to executing agencies, at HR 4350.