It's now legal for police in North Dakota to strap weapons to drones - so long as they aren't lethal
"Less than lethal" apparently means that cops can strap anything from rubber bullets, pepper spray, tasers and tear gas to the flying robots, according to a report by The Daily Beast. But despite their name, non-lethal munitions can still kill, as was demonstrated in the tragic case where Stanley Harlan was tased to death by police.
The state is the first in the nation to allow police to equip drones with these kinds of weapons, which could set a disturbing precedent in a nation with an already disturbingly militarized police force.Amid the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old, a report from the American Civil Liberties Union revealed the US military transfers a shocking amount of heavy duty equipment to local police forces that often lack the training to use them.
The original bill behind the new law initially intended to make the weaponization of drones illegal, but the bill was later amended by a pro-police lobbyist so that non-lethal weapons would be allowed for use by law enforcement, according to the Daily Beast. The expansion of the police's use-of-force powers seems slightly tone-def, amid a rise in public, even international, outcry over the use of excess force by police.
The supporters of the bill argue that "media is making a big deal out of something that isn't a big deal," when it comes to the weaponization of drones, according to the Daily Beast.
But North Dakota state Representative Rick Becker expressed concern that "when you're not on the ground, and you're making decisions, you're sort of separate," adding that law enforcement activities carried out remotely via drone have a "depersonalized" nature, as quoted by the Daily Beast.
Another worrying factor is the large discrepancy between the number of drone operations reported by the FAA, 401, and the number reported by local law enforcement, 21, according to the Daily Beast. This wide gulf raises questions of police accountability when it comes to drone use.The new law that enables police to deck out drones with weapons also requires police to get a warrant before using a drone for most private surveillance.
As drones become more popular among consumers and more widely used commercially, there is some concern that the devices could also become an appealing tool for criminals.
Earlier this month, Homeland Security warned US police that drones could be used as a means of launching a terrorist attack or used for criminal activity.
While we have yet to see a weaponized drone cause harm yet in the US, several recent incidents involving drones have stirred some controversy.
In June, a video of a consumer drone strapped with a handgun went viral and was subsequently investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration. While the video was shot in a wooded area and no one was harmed, it triggered concern about just how easy it is to make the machines lethal.
And twice this year the White House has gone into lockdown because of drones flying too close to secure grounds.