OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Alameda County supervisors decided Tuesday not to review a budget proposal to add a drone to the Sheriff’s department.

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern said there would be a specific purpose for the remote controlled drone – which is just larger than a laptop computer and would fly 400 feet above the ground.

“We plan on using the unmanned aerial system to rescue people and save lives,” said Ahern. “And anybody that doesn’t want us to have an item that would save lives, I would like to know what their explanation is behind that.”

Such a drone would likely be equipped with a long-distance camera, live video downlink and infrared sensors.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California claimed the department is much closer to acquiring drones than previously reported. The group claims that officials have already solicited bids from three drone makers.

Linda Lye, an attorney with the ACLU, said documents obtained through the California Public Records Act shows that the sheriff’s department would use the drone for surveillance and intelligence gathering purposes.

The ACLU also claims that public records requests by the Electronic Frontier Foundation have uncovered plans by the Sheriff’s department to use the drones for purposes such as “crowd control” and tracking “suspicious persons.”

“The most important thing is that we have nothing yet on paper that will bind the sheriff, impose written and forcible safeguards and accountability mechanisms to prevent privacy abuses,” Lye said.

The proposal would have allowed the county to accept a $31,000 grant from California Emergency Management Agency for the purchase of the unmanned aircraft. The Board of Supervisors decided that the acquisition warranted further discussion and they pulled it from the agenda. It will now be vetted with public input in the public protection committee setting.

“It will remain 100 percent transparent,” said Ahern.

Despite the criticism from the ACLU, no member of the organization has called the sheriff to set up a meeting about the concerns.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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