The UK-based Daily Express is reporting that Christopher Dorner “has become the first human target for remotely-controlled airborne drones on U.S. soil.” Dorner is currently the target of one of the largest manhunts in the history of Southern California, wanted for his alleged involvements in the shootings of three LAPD officers and their families. The Express quotes a senior police officer: “The thermal imaging cameras the drones use may be our only hope of finding him. On the ground, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Asked directly if drones have already been deployed, Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz, who is jointly leading the task force, said: “We are using all the tools at our disposal.” The use of drones was later confirmed by Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio, who revealed agents have been prepared for Dorner to make a dash for the Mexican border since his rampage began. He said: “This agency has been at the forefront of domestic use of drones by law enforcement. That’s all I can say at the moment.”The Atlantic Wire has taken issue with Express’s claim that Droner’s pursuit constitutes the first use of drones for such purposes, noting the highly publicized case of a Predator B drone abetting the 2011 arrests of three suspects in North Dakota. The Atlantic goes on to wonder whether the Express is in fact suggesting that the drones in pursuit of Dorner are armed, “as that would completely complicate the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘right to a fair trial’ rights afforded to all Americans.” Given that the LAPD is currently neither acknowledging nor denying even the use of drones in this case, the question of whether or not they are armed is not likely to be known.Still, such novel uses of drones for domestic surveillance and law enforcement have been met with increasing controversy. In February 2012, the Electronic Privacy Information Center submitted a petition to the Federal Aviation Administration, which issues certificates allowing applicants to fly drones over the U.S., requesting that a public rule-making be conducted in order to guarantee privacy rights in the event of drone-employment. “Currently, the only barrier to the routine use of drones for persistent surveillance are the procedural requirements imposed by the FAA for the issue of certificates,” Amie Stepanovich, a national security counsel for the EPIC, told the Washington Times. EPIC’s petition expressed concern with the FAA's own estimates that as many as 30,000 unmanned drones might be in the US skies as early as 2020.
Anthony Mangini is an editorial intern at In These Times. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s degree from New York University. He currently resides in Chicago.