The San Francisco Police Department is now authorized to use robots to murder people. The Board of Supervisors rejected critics who criticized the increasing militarization of a domestic police unit by voting 8-3 to grant the police that authority on Tuesday.
Police will be permitted to employ robots “as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD,” according to the new rule. It is the same threshold that applies when human officers kill someone, despite the police’s claims that it is exceedingly high and should only be used in the most dire situations. A draft rule had a line added to it prohibiting the employment of killer robots, but the police removed it, as was previously reported by Motherboard and the local news outlet Mission Local.
Civil rights and privacy groups in the city are disturbed by the rule. Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Motherboard earlier this week that the organization “has a very clear position that we do not think in a domestic enforcement setting robots should ever be armed.” Matthew is quite concerned that we will see these armed robots waiting outside of every protest, which is a very hazardous situation.
The Board of Supervisors also authorized a regulation earlier this year that permits law enforcement to webcast secure video feeds. A coalition of civil rights and privacy organizations opposed the rule on the grounds that it was an excessive and unnecessary invasion of people’s privacy that could be used against them, especially during First Amendment activities. This rule also sparked a contentious discussion about civil rights and policing. It was advertised as being only to be used in extreme or unusual circumstances, much like the killer robot rule, but also as a technique to reduce the perception of an increase in crime. How these approaches can accomplish both has often been questioned by advocates.
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