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A little more than a month ago ACAD (Alameda County Against Drones) was formed to protest the proposed purchase of a drone by Alameda County, California (home to Berkeley and Oakland, among other cities and towns).  Tweeting as NOMBY (Not Over My Back Yard) they began a campaign to call attention to this issue and bring it before the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, our elected officials.


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And it helped! Or so it seemed. Not too long after the campaign began ACAD went before the Board of Supervisors and convinced them to hold a hearing on drones rather than give carte blanche to Greg Ahern, the Alameda County Sheriff, to purchase and deploy such devices. (Sheriff Ahern had been providing public assurances that drones were intended only for such purposes as "search and rescue" and natural disaster damage assessment, but he was caught out when public documents revealed that drones were also being proposed for such vague roles as "information gathering", "crowd control" and "terrorism prevention.")

Yesterday, however, the twitterverse erupted with news of a backstab. Someone, somehow, had snuck in an agenda item for the Board of Supervisors meeting the next day which, hidden layers deep, included authorization for the sheriff to purchase a drone based on grant money being received from the Department of Homeland Security.

Funding in the amount of $31,646 will be allocated to the Alameda County Sheriffs Office to purchase an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), weighing less than 4lbs, equipped with live video downlink. The Unmanned Aerial System consists of an unmanned aircraft, the control system, a control link and other related support equipment.

Wait, what? Didn't I just write that the Board voted weeks ago to have this issue taken up at a Public Safety Committee meeting? Why, yes I did. So how did it get on the agenda of the full Board of Supervisors? No one seemed to know for sure, or at least be willing to own up to it. But one thing seemed certain, as I tweeted:

JP Massar @jpmassar
@OaktownMike @marymad Just called my rep. Got his CoS. Says "item was put on agenda inside of another item." Dirty shit goin' down #oo @nomby
Not long after that Michael Siegel, legal counsel for ACAD, tweeted
Michael Siegel @OaktownMike
You all must work fast! Just got call from Alameda County counsel, saying Sheriff WILL NOT seek approval for drone tomorrow. #agitationworks
Danger apparently averted. But to be safe, a press conference was called for 10:00 AM today (Tuesday), to highlight this smoke-filled-room-like tactic and call more attention down on the drone issue. A good thing too!

When, after the press conference, we finally made it into the Board of Supervisors meeting hall to find out what was what, it turned out that the offending item -- the authorization to accept the grant money -- had not been excised from the agenda; well, not exactly.  Only the subitem specifically noting that $32,000 of the grant money was to be used to buy a drone had been excised. But since the entirety of the grant money was to be accepted by the motion, that $32,000 would still have been available to the sheriff to buy the drone! (In other words, while there wouldn't have been specific authorization to buy the drone, there wouldn't have been any clause that said he couldn't buy the drone, and, via the grant, he would have had the money to buy the drone... And since he WANTED to buy the drone...)

Complicated? Yes.

But thanks to the ACLU's eagle-eyed Linda Lye, who has been working with ACAD closely on this issue,  this Catch-22 was, well, caught, and in a flurry of activity before the public portion of the meeting began, she got the motion amended. Here's how it went down:

Linda Lye @linda_lye
Chief admin ofcr pulled req for drone auth from supes' agenda but draft resolution wld still authorize ACSO to receive and admin drone $

Linda Lye @linda_lye
Asking supervisor valle to ask for amendment to sheriffs' resolution to make sure drones not authorized

Linda Lye @linda_lye
Unless language of resolution on item 22 changed, it would mean no pub comment or bd discussion but blanket approval of drone.

Linda Lye @linda_lye
Let's see what county counsel has to say about my request to change language of resolution on grant funds.

Linda Lye @linda_lye
Yay. Supervisor Carson amended resolution to say no drones. Board will take up issue at public protection cmte in jan.

Linda Lye @linda_lye
@JanetRWeil Thanks to everyone for turning out. I think Sheriff and Bd of Supes got the message that drones are not getting rammed thru.

Linda Lye @linda_lye
drone on agenda by "oversight"? if true, still shows sheriff wasn't taking concerns seriously. you wouldn't accidentally put nuke on agenda.

So...

Yeah ACAD!
Yeah ACLU!
Good catch Linda Lye!

Indeed, a very tiny -- but important -- victory.  While the use of police drones may be spreading rapidly around the country, there will -- for the nonce -- be no Sheriff's drones flying over Alameda County, video recording terroristic Occupiers attempting to feed the hungry and keep people in their homes.


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After all, we already have the Oakland Police for that.

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Another writeup of the Alameda Drone brouhaha: Just Say "No!" (or at the Very Least, "Not Yet!") to Drones.

5:10 PM PT: SF Chronicle: Sheriff promises no spying with drone

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