Seattle Citizens Resist Activation of Obama’s National Drone Surveillance Network

Heated hearing airs distrust over SPD drones

seattletime times

A public hearing Wednesday on the Seattle Police Department’s plans to deploy drones drew sharp criticism from numerous speakers.

By Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times staff reporter

There was no shortage of strong opinions — or strong words — when a Seattle City Council committee took up the issue of unmanned police drones during an often heated hearing Wednesday.

“You’re more dangerous than Nazi,” Alex Zimmerman, an activist with Stand Up America, told the members of the council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee. “You’re more dangerous than Communist; more dangerous than Gestapo; more dangerous than KGB.”

Another speaker called committee members “idiots” for even considering an ordinance that would govern the Seattle Police Department’s use of drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Systems.

“Not only ‘no drones,’ but no more council. You guys are crooks. You guys are idiots. You’re telling us they got them already, we have to use them … You guys are becoming a police state … The people do not want this,” said Samuel Bellomio, also with Stand Up America.

The meeting, called to discuss a proposed ordinance that would set restrictions on how and when the police department can use the tiny aircraft, ended with committee Chairman Bruce Harrell saying the conversation had been helpful and would likely lead to the measure being refined.

The proposal is to go back before the committee for a possible vote Feb. 20, then on to the full council Feb. 25.

Jennifer Shaw, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said the ACLU would prefer that Seattle police did not have drones. However, since the department had purchased two with money from a federal Homeland Security grant, she said, it’s important for the city to establish “strong restrictions.”

She recommended that the ordinance be refined to include a more “robust audit provision” and language stating the drones are part of a pilot program.

“We’d like to be able to see if it’s effective and then have the council determine if it should still be going on,” Shaw said.

The proposed restrictions were written after the police department received approval last year from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate drones, sparking an uproar among residents, privacy advocates and civil-rights activists.

The FAA approval was granted after President Obama signed a law that compelled the agency to plan for safe integration of civilian drones into American airspace by 2015.

The restrictions would ban the use of drones for general surveillance or for flights over open-air assemblies.

It also would require a warrant be obtained in all but “exigent” or emergency circumstances, such as situations involving hostages, search-and-rescue operations, the pursuit of armed felons, bomb threats and the detection of “hot spots” in fires, or for the collection of traffic data.

The proposed restrictions would ban the use of drones for the collection of information on anyone not specifically named in a warrant, but specify that information collected inadvertently while an unmanned system was being operated in good faith would not violate the ordinance.

That last clause was troubling to members of the audience, including Chris Stearns of the Human Rights Commission, who said the city should make it illegal to use data inadvertently collected by drones in criminal prosecutions.

Committee member Nick Licata said the term “exigent” was too broad and that he would like the ordinance to specify that the drones can only be used for hostage situations and bomb threats.

He also suggested the ordinance specify that the use of drones in emergency circumstances would require the written authorization of an assistant police chief or captain, instead of a lieutenant as proposed.

The ordinance also states that any data collected by drones would be deleted after 30 days unless there was a “reasonable belief that the data is evidence of criminal activity or civil liability.”

The measure would also set up provisions for audits and an annual review.

The issue has ignited strong feelings among opponents. During a public meeting in October, protesters shouted down police speakers during a presentation on the aircraft.


Christine Clarridge:

206-464- 8983 or

City of Seattle Legislative Information Service

Information retrieved on February 7, 2013 12:43 PM 

Council Bill Number: 117707 

AN ORDINANCE relating to the regulation of unmanned aircraft systems operated by the Seattle Police Department; adopting City policies regarding the acquisition and operation of unmanned aircraft systems; and establishing a new Chapter 14.18 in the Seattle Municipal Code.

Status: In Committee

Date introduced/referred to committee: February 4, 2013
Committee: Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology


Fiscal Note: Fiscal Note to Council Bill No. 117707



AN ORDINANCE relating to the regulation of unmanned aircraft systems operated by the Seattle Police Department; adopting City policies regarding the acquisition and operation of unmanned aircraft systems; and establishing a new Chapter 14.18 in the Seattle Municipal Code.

WHEREAS, the U.S. Congress has authorized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to approve the use of unmanned aircraft systems by public agencies for domestic purposes; and

WHEREAS, FAA regulations are primarily focused on safety issues related to unmanned aircraft operations; and

WHEREAS, absent federal regulations, it falls on local jurisdictions to regulate unmanned aircraft operations to protect the public’s reasonable expectation of privacy and civil liberties; and

WHEREAS, unmanned aircraft may help public agencies gather information in certain public safety situations, such as natural disasters, search and rescue, police investigations, and significant traffic accidents; and

WHEREAS, the Seattle Police Department may operate a limited number of unmanned aircraft under certain circumstances; NOW, THEREFORE,


Section 1. A new Chapter 14.18 of the Seattle Municipal Code is established as follows:

Chapter 14.18 Unmanned Aircraft Systems — Pilot Program

14.18.010 Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this chapter is to authorize the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to conduct a pilot program to use unmanned aircraft systems and to establish City policies regarding unmanned aircraft operations. No other City of Seattle department may acquire or operate unmanned aircraft. The policies described in this Chapter 14.18 apply to unmanned aircraft as defined in this Chapter 14.18. Unless otherwise specified, the policies contained in this chapter apply to all persons employed or retained by the City of Seattle, including agents retained on a temporary, contract, or voluntary basis.

14.18.020 Definitions applicable to this chapter

“Data collection” means the acquisition of information by use of one or more sensing devices.

“Sensing device” means a device capable of acquiring data from its surroundings. Sensing devices include, but are not limited to cameras (both still and video, using either visible, ultraviolet, or infrared frequencies), microphones, thermal detectors, chemical detectors, radiation gauges, and wireless receivers in any frequency (including cellular, WiFi, or other data frequencies).

“Target” means one or more individuals or areas for which data collection is authorized in the documentation justifying deployment of an unmanned aircraft.

“Unmanned aircraft” or “unmanned aircraft systems” means an unmanned vehicle or device carrying sensing equipment.

14.18.030 Authorization of pilot program

SPD is authorized to operate up to two Draganflyer X6 unmanned aircraft consistent with the regulations contained in this Chapter 14.18. SPD must obtain ordinance authority prior to acquiring or operating any additional unmanned aircraft beyond the two Draganflyer X6 in its possession as of January 1, 2013.

14.18.040 City policies regarding the operations of unmanned aircraft

A. Unmanned aircraft shall not be used to conduct general surveillance.

B. Unmanned aircraft shall be used only for data collection.

C. Unmanned aircraft shall not be equipped with weapons.

D. Unmanned aircraft should be used for data collection only on the target (as specified in the warrant or written documentation authorizing the operation of the unmanned aircraft as required in Section 14.18.050). SPD should avoid data collection on individuals, homes, or other areas other than the target. Inadvertent data collection is not a violation if such data is collected while an unmanned aircraft is operated in good faith.

E. SPD may use facial recognition or biometric matching technology on data collected by unmanned aircraft only to confirm the identity of the target specified in the warrant or written documentation required in Section 14.18.050.

F. Operations of unmanned aircraft are prohibited between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the American Air Almanac, converted to local time.

G. Unmanned aircraft operations shall not be conducted over populated areas or heavily trafficked roads unless specifically authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration.

H. Unmanned aircraft operations shall not be conducted over an open-air assembly of people.

I. Data collected inadvertently on an individual, home, or area may be used only in those cases where such data evidences significant risk of personal injury or property damage. In such rare circumstances, the data may be used for any purpose consistent with current law.

14.18.050 Circumstances under which SPD may deploy and operate unmanned aircraft

A. Prior to deploying and operating unmanned aircraft, SPD shall obtain a warrant based upon probable cause, with the exception of the circumstances described in subsection 14.18.050.B.

B. For the following circumstances, a warrant is not required unless otherwise needed under the law.

1. Exigent circumstances, when time is of the essence for data collection needed to reduce the risk of serious bodily harm to a member of the public. Examples include hostage situations, search and rescue, hot pursuit of armed felony suspects, bomb threats, and detection of ‘hot spots’ in fires;

2. Data collection of a traffic accident; or

3. Training exercises, provided that data shall not be collected on individuals unless those individuals have consented to the collection.

Prior to deploying unmanned aircraft under this subsection 14.18.050.B, written authorization at or above the rank of Lieutenant is required using a standard form that specifically identifies the target on which data is to be collected.

14.18.060 Data retention, record keeping, and public disclosure

A. Data collected by an unmanned aircraft shall be deleted within 30 days unless there is a reasonable belief the data is evidence of criminal activity or civil liability, or the data is collected under subsection 14.18.050.B3.

B. SPD shall maintain a log recording each use of an unmanned aircraft. The log shall include the date, time, and location of use; the target of data collection; the type of data collected; the justification for the deployment; the operator(s) of the unmanned aircraft; and the person who authorized the use. Each log entry shall be maintained for a minimum of three years.

C. Prior to deploying unmanned aircraft, SPD shall develop written data retention and record-keeping policies that address the following:

1. The time period for which data collected by unmanned aircraft will be retained beyond the time period specified in subsection 14.18.060.A.

2. How the records are to be labeled; the method selected must allow for personnel to readily search and locate records, or know with certainty that they have been deleted.

3. The system to be used to store the records.

4. Who may access the records and the specific procedures for doing so.

5. A method for tracking who views unmanned aircraft records, including the date, time, the personnel involved and the reason(s) for viewing the records.

6. Who has authority to obtain copies of the records and how the existence and location of copies will be tracked.

7. The unit or individuals responsible for ensuring compliance with SPD’s data retention and record-keeping policies for unmanned aircraft.

D. Notwithstanding the provisions of this Chapter 14.18, SPD shall comply with the Public Records Act, RCW Chapter 42.56.

14.18.070 Annual report

SPD shall provide a written report by March 1 of each year to the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, or its successor committee, on the deployment of unmanned aircraft for the preceding year. Each report shall include the date of each unmanned aircraft deployment, the specific circumstances under which it was deployed (per Section 14.18.050), the reasons for deployment, whether and how the data collected proved useful for public safety or law enforcement purposes, and whether the data collected for each incident was deleted within 30 days or retained. The report shall also include all costs associated with the unmanned aircraft pilot program (operating and capital), and any additional information Council may request.

14.18.080 No effect on admissibility

A. Neither compliance with nor a failure to comply with the policies contained in this chapter shall affect the admissibility of video recordings as evidence in criminal, civil, or administrative proceedings.

14.18.090 Civil liability

A. No cause of action may be based upon the activity of departmental personnel in complying with a court order, or an action authorized by this Chapter 14.18.

B. The City reserves all defenses at law consistent with this Chapter 14.18, including but not limited to consent, privilege, participation, and waiver, and as to departmental personnel or a City official, any defense arising in the employer/employee or principal/agent relationship.

C. No cause of action may be based upon this Chapter 14.18 against the Mayor, the City Council, any City department head, any departmental personnel, or any other City officer or employee, individually, for any action or omission made in good faith in the scope and course of his or her duties. In the event such a lawsuit is brought against a City officer or employee, individually, for such an action or omission, and the officer or employee cooperates fully in defense of the lawsuit, the City Attorney may represent the individual and defend the litigation. If the claim is deemed a proper one or judgment is rendered against the City officer or employee individually, the judgment shall be paid by the City in accordance with its procedures for the settlement of claims and payment of judgments.

14.18.130 Employee discipline

A. Any City personnel who violates policies contained in this Chapter, 14.18 or any implementing rule or regulation, may be subject to the disciplinary proceedings and punishment authorized by the City Charter, Article XVI.

B. For City personnel who are represented under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, Section 14.18.130 prevails except where it conflicts with the collective bargaining agreement, any memoranda of agreement or understanding signed pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, or any recognized and established practice relative to the members of the bargaining unit.

Section 2. The City Auditor is requested to review SPD’s policies and procedures for compliance with Seattle Municipal Code 14.18, with a written report due to the City Council by September 30, 2014.

Section 3. This ordinance shall take effect and be in force 30 days after its approval by the Mayor, but if not approved and returned by the Mayor within ten days after presentation, it shall take effect as provided by Seattle Municipal Code Section 1.04.020.

Passed by the City Council the ____ day of ________________________, 2013, and signed by me in open session in authentication of its passage this

_____ day of ___________________, 2013.


President __________of the City Council

Approved by me this ____ day of _____________________, 2013.


Michael McGinn, Mayor

Filed by me this ____ day of __________________________, 2013.


Monica Martinez Simmons, City Clerk


VallesC LEG UAS ORD January 29, 2013 Version #1