Update: December 5: Transcription and Audio Video Downloads here: https://www.aaronswartzday.org/no-killer-robots-press-conference-december-5-2022/
December 4, 2021
Contact: Tracy Rosenberg, Co-Founder – Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project
When: 9:30 am
Where: City Hall, Polk Street Steps (Civic Center Park Facing- Steps)
What: Rally and Press Conference organized by Dean Preston, District 5 Supervisor, San Francisco (Who voted “no” on this issue last week) — Also the EFF and ACLU will be there!
Why: To convince the SF Board of Supervisors to vote “No” on the final vote going on this Tuesday at 2pm or postpone the 2nd vote to a later date.
- Exigent Circumstances
- How soon can this thing pass the Board of Supervisors? (Or “Where is the Policy Amendment exactly in its Process?)
- What language should the Policy Amendment include?
- About Dallas
This policy amendment would allow the SFPD to arm any existing robots. For instance, to take the bomb robots that they already have, that are usually used to find and dismantle bombs, and retrofit them to actually carry a bomb into a situation, such as the situation in Dallas back in 2016. (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/09/science/dallas-bomb-robot.html)
Police Departments can already violate their standing policies in extreme situations citing “exigent circumstances” (including an imminent threat to life), when everything else has been tried and failed. For this reason, a policy amendment isn’t actually necessary for the robots to be used in this manner in a crisis scenario, as long as the department self-reports.
The policy amendment is an attempt to make the use of lethal force by robots a “standard operating procedure” rather than something that is only allowed during the most extreme of circumstances. The policy amendment’s only requirement to use one of these armed robots is that it be authorized by a single one of the three highest commanding officers, who only needs to “evaluate” the situation prior to use.
Police use the “exigent circumstances” exception frequently when they want to borrow and use surveillance equipment that isn’t authorized by the local surveillance or military equipment policy for regular use. For instance, when the city of Oakland borrows drones from Alameda County, or when San Francisco borrows a cell site simulator from the Department of Homeland Security.
“Exigent circumstances” is how the cops can get around restrictions they would otherwise be bound by and when misused, can cover for First and Fourth Amendment violations. It also gives the cops the flexibility to do basically anything else they want to do, when the circumstances are extreme and abnormal. In the case of surveillance and militarized equipment (which is what the robots fall under) -an exigent circumstance clause lets the equipment be used in ways which the policy does not otherwise allow on a one-time emergency basis. (https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/exigent_circumstances)
Here, for example are some exigent circumstance reports for drone use in Oakland when drone use was not otherwise permitted.
We only know about these, because they have to report on themselves when they use unapproved technology due to an emergency. But it is possible to allow them to do so, as long as they disclose the use and explain the “exigent circumstances” that were occurring.
But they cannot use and should not be able to use unapproved equipment or techniques without a present severe emergency and disclosure. That is the difference between exigent-use-only and standard operating procedure. The proposed policy amendment goes beyond exigent use to allow standard use whenever police commanders decide to do so and does not require prompt public disclosure after use.
How soon can this thing pass the Board of Supervisors? (Or “Where is the Policy Amendment exactly in its Process?)
The “first reading” of the ordinance was already voted on and passed 8-3, but several of the “Yes” votes were clearly uncomfortable with the situation. (We’re not sure why they voted “yes” anyway…)
The next vote is this TUESDAY DECEMBER 6 at 2 PM.
The amended ordinance with the killer robot permission will become law after the second reading, so if we can’t convince some of the supervisors to change their stance in the next few days, San Francisco will become the first city in the country to explicitly authorize deadly force by robots.
What language should the Policy Amendment include?
Well, it should say that robots cannot be armed under any circumstances.
However, since we may need to just slow down a runaway train, we wish to make it clear what any Amendment would need to include.
The policy should say it would only be used:
1)under threat of imminent and significant casualties or severe physical injury, and
2)only after de-escalation efforts and alternative use of force techniques have been tried and failed to subdue the subject, and
3)where there would be no collateral loss of life whatsoever, including bystanders and hostages.
These minimum requirements are humane in a way that hopefully does not need justification or debate.
In July of 2016 in Dallas, a suspect had shot and injured a number of policemen and barricaded himself in a building. The Dallas Police Department armed an existing bomb sniffing robot and send it into the building to blow it up and kill the suspect. The Dallas Police Department was extremely lucky that there was no collateral damage. The suspect was killed.
It is the only known use in the United States of a robot with a bomb being used by civilian law enforcement. In 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department delivered explosive bombs via helicopter when they bombed the headquarters of the MOVE black liberation group. The MOVE bombing killed at least 5 children, burned down over 60 residences and is generally seen as egregious police violence.
The Dallas incident is often used to justify why it might be necessary to arm a robot with bombs, but if we examine it closely, it does quite the opposite.
Considering it was one guy, locked inside a building, alone, with little or no chance of being able to hurt anyone else unless they were to force their way inside the building, it’s pretty easy to say that the Dallas PD jumped the gun. DPD had lots of other options short of blowing up the building. For instance, they could have waited hours or days for the guy to eventually come out, and stayed far enough away so he couldn’t shoot them.
With all this in mind, there is no reason for San Francisco to establish the blueprint for regularized use of killer robots with few restrictions besides an evaluation by senior police command.