A federal statute authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surveillance technology, among other military equipment, to state and local police. This threatens privacy, free speech, and racial justice.
So Congress should do the right thing and enact Representative Ayanna Pressley’s amendment, Moratorium on Transfer of Controlled Property to Enforcement Agencies, to H.R. 4350, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (NDAA22). It would greatly curtail the amount of dangerous military equipment, including surveillance drones, that could be transferred to local and state law enforcement agencies through the Department of Defense’s “1033 program.” It has already placed $7.4 billion in military equipment with police departments since 1990.
The program includes both “controlled” property, such as weapons and vehicles, and “uncontrolled” property, such as first aid kits and tents. Pressley’s amendment would prevent the transfer of all “controlled” property, which includes “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or drones. It also includes: Manned aircraft, Wheeled armored vehicles, Command and control vehicles, specialized firearms and ammunition under .50 caliber, Breaching apparatus, and Riot batons and shields.
Even without the Department of Defense landing drones into 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’ve claimed they need them to help fight COVID-19. The Chicago Police Department even launched a massive drone program using only off-the-books money taken through civil asset forfeiture.
We know what will happen if police get their hands on more and more military surveillance drones. Technology given out on the condition that it can only be used in “extreme” circumstances often ends up being used in everyday acts of over-policing. And police have already used drones to monitor how people exercise their First Amendment-protected rights….