For Los Angeles, Domestic Surveillance Drones Are Already A Reality
R. Rex Parris is the mayor of Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, a reactionary crony of Buck McKeon's, and is best known as "the guy who tried to ban dogs known to be favored by gangs, proposed restrictions on landlords who want to rent to tenants with Section 8 federal housing vouchers, helped fund a program to bus homeless people out of town and shut down a local motel to prevent the notorious Mongols motorcycle club from meeting in Lancaster... and kicking aside roadblocks for developers wanting to do business in town... [C]ritics say Parris, who was elected [in 2008], is an arrogant bully and an unstoppable control freak. 'King Rex' they call him, or 'T. Rex.' Scott Pelka, 52, a self-described archenemy of Parris and long-time Lancaster resident, said the mayor has created a 'dictatorship' in which challenges to his authority are simply not tolerated."
Buck McKeon, founder and chairman of the congressional drone caucus, notorious for taking more bribes from drone manufacturers than anyone else in Congress-- and for directing drone company political contributions towards other congressmen-- doesn't simply "tolerate," T Rex, he encouraged him to build his own private drone-like force in the Antelope Valley to help the manufacturers sell their products to municipalities nationwwide. At a time when Russia and China have decided to build their own drone capacities, this Brave New World is already getting out of hand domestically. Fourth Amendment? Who cares? Not T Rex and not Buck McKeon.
The FAA hasn't authorized unmanned drones in U.S. skies yet, but at the behest of the drone manufacturers, McKeon and T Rex figured a way around it-- a manned Eye in the Sky controlled from the ground with an iPad! The Antelope Valley, which voted against McKeon in November and supported his Democratic opponent, Lee Rogers, has become the national testing ground for using drone technology for spying on American citizens.
Despite the security measures the city said it would take to keep the video footage accessible only to the sheriff’s office, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California had a number of unanswered questions about the program.
Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said privacy issues remain a “huge concern” and the organization sent a public records request on Monday, Nov. 7, to Lancaster and Los Angeles County for the details behind the aerial surveillance program.
“People who have done nothing wrong shouldn’t have the details of everything they do in their yards and homes open to video surveillance from the skies,” Bibring said. “This kind of sophisticated aerial technology poses a significant risk to the privacy of the residents of Lancaster, and it’s also unclear why it’s a better crime-fighting tool than less invasive and less expensive options the police already use.”
Bibring went on to say that while the California Public Records Act exempts law enforcement investigation materials from disclosure if the program’s video footage is random daily surveillance. It’s unclear whether such random footage will also be exempt from public records requests.
“The fact that [the video footage] is going directly to law enforcement doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be shared with other agencies,” Bibring added. “The program raises all sorts of questions.”
Parris disagreed with Bibring’s assessment of the situation. Parris said the public can’t request data from the city if the city doesn’t have any access to the data. So in this case-- since the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station will control the data-- there shouldn’t be any California Public Records Act issues when it comes to the availability of the video footage.
Additionally the Lancaster mayor maintained that while the video is surveillance data, it will be treated as evidential and, therefore, protected.
“City personnel and non-parties to a criminal case do not have any rights or privileges for accessing the data transmitted by LEAPS to the Sheriff’s archives,” Parris explained.
Brandon Zavala is Chairman of Community Outreach for the Democratic Club of the High Desert, someone who's paid a great deal of attention to McKeon and T Rex's drone program. Yesterday he told me that "the City of Lancaster has taken it upon itself to monitor each and every citizen with its, 'Eye-in-the-Sky' program. A Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy is able to direct the flight pattern of the plane which has a fully-functional camera attached to it; the officer can move the camera at his/her discretion at unsuspecting members of the public. The Mayor of Lancaster, R. Rex Parris, thinks he owns the city, and the citizens of Lancaster are unaware that their mayor spies on them for what he calls, 'their safety.' The 'Eye-in-the-Sky' has never solved a crime according to the deputies I have spoken to personally, and it costs the city $90,000 a month to buzz over our heads. Money that could be spent on real officers, on after-school programs for children and economic development in a city devastated by the economic recession. Mayor R. Rex Parris has tried selling the 'Eye-in-the-Sky' to other cities and sheriff’s department throughout the state of California and quite frankly, I am tired of my California skies being treated as a show room for a millionaire mayor with too much time on his hands."