CA Residents Alarmed to Find Local Gov’t Using Drones to Spy on Neighborhoods

Have you ever stopped to consider just how much power the local housing authority has over your life? If you’re a member of select neighborhoods in Sacramento, CA, then you couldn’t help but ponder that possibility, especially once the humming of drones overhead became a consistent presence post-sunset.

It was, after all, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, or SHRA, that agreed to implement a 90-day pilot project in which residents in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood serve as guinea pigs at a cost of $20,000 to the taxpayer. If that cost seems high for a program that these residents never asked for, consider that they get the added benefit of intermittent buzzing overhead as they try to get some shut eye.

“The drone would fly over here, come over my neighbor’s house, fly over our house right here,” Land Park resident John Mattox, the first to spot the drone, said. “You come home from work, it would be operating, go to bed it was still operating, and this would repeat day after day.”

Another resident reported the drone operating directly over their house (they know because they could hear it as they lie awake from the noise) until 3 in the morning for three straight nights. It’s akin to water torture by drone for those who need to rise early for work.

Yet, of course, Sacramento residents can’t fly their own drones for recreation in local parks. That’s illegal. But a low-level local government housing agency has complete freedom to fly their potentially Chinese-bought drones over what is presumably private property, leaving those in targeted neighborhoods with a sense that they are under constant surveillance.

Yes, you read that right. Many believe that these drones, considering their appearance and specs, are likely not your run-of-the-mill, American-made drones for which consumers have plenty of information about their capabilities and specifications. Though the limited information being given to inquiring parties makes it impossible to confirm, pictures of the drone issued in local news reports make the Chinese-made DJI MATRICE 600PRO drone the most likely model being used to monitor these Sacramento neighborhoods.

But, never mind such silly speculation! Such worrying is nothing short of pessimism.

What’s to complain about? After all, all this unconsented surveillance is for their own good! Chinese drone, American drone, Russian drone….what’s the difference when we’re talking about something that is so unequivocally positive?

We could all be a little more selfless, put up with buzzing at all hours of the night, know that the eye in the sky is watching us as we take a leisurely stroll to clear our mind or go for a jog around the park. It’s a crime stopping device, and the evidence of its effectiveness is nothing short of debate-ending.

“Housing Authority officials say the five-foot-long aircraft operates between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., and it has already spotted illegal dumping and trespassing.” (ABC 13 News, Sacramento)

Who wouldn’t be willing to trade their fundamental sense of privacy, their sense of self-policed neighborhood, in order to catch illegal dumping? It’s documented evidence of such heinous acts as illegal dumping that warrants this nightly surveillance in the first place. Sure, the affirmed-suspicion that there is a flying camera overhead monitoring your every outdoor movement and, who knows what else, is a bit disconcerting, as residents in these neighborhoods have attested, but they’ll get over it.

It’s the cost of safety in the 21st century, and who could be more qualified to administer this safety than the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency? They’ve answered all the questions residents have for them…well, not exactly. But they have confirmed that drones only start spying on residents once it’s reached a threshold altitude.

“The drones are programmed so that they do not catch any footage until they get to about 200 feet in the air,” SHRA assistant director LaTanna Jones said.

See, it’s not like it’s intrusive. It only operates at a distance of 200 feet in the air. Isn’t that comforting? Aren’t you assuaged, Sacramentans?

Sure, Californians voted in favor of legislation that would restrict the flying of drones to no lower than 350 feet over residential areas in 2015. But, Governor Jerry Brown knew better. He vetoed that bill in September 2015 in the name of avoiding ‘burdensome litigation’ that could be brought against ‘the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike’.

The ever-wise Governor Brown surely knew that programs like the one being deployed in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood were on the books. Even if he didn’t know the specifics, these programs don’t just pop up spontaneously. Such noble action in the service of Californians is surely planned far before it is rolled out, even if the citizens being monitored are given no warning.

Why should they be? The drones are there for their own good! Certainly, they must see this…

But, somehow, they don’t see this. They fail to see how the nightly deployment of safety-providing cameras attached to five-foot winged machines with 360 degree motion and potentially developed in the trustworthy confines of a Chinese-based manufacturing warehouse is so obviously an instrument to enhance their peace of mind!

“It just doesn’t feel good,” resident Ben Allen said. “It hovers around. You don’t know what they’re looking at and monitoring.”… “This is not an appropriate way to police the community,” Mattox added.

Ben Allen, John Mattox, and others uncomfortable with this step toward the future of suburban safety mechanisms just don’t get it. This is all being done for them! It’s for their own good!

“We initiated the drone program in order to enhance the safety and security of our residents,” LaTanna Jones added.

How many times must this be repeated in order for those reaping the ultimate reward, safety, from drone monitoring to understand that it is, beyond a doubt, the truth?

It’s the reason why government knows best, and why government must thus be left to make these decisions about what is a real violation of privacy, and what – in the case of the Land Park drones – are simply instruments of safety and security, put into place to protect the residents from the dangers presented by their surroundings.

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