San Francisco to vote on lethal robots next week


(NewsNation) — San Francisco is considering giving its 17 remote-controlled robots the ability to kill, a report last week said. 

According to the Bay area publication SF Gate, the concept has not been well-received by civil liberties groups and activists.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Northern California chapter tweeted “You’ve got to be kidding” after news of the additions to the proposal broke on Nov. 23.

Similarly, Tifanei Moyer, a senior staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, told Mission Local, which originally broke the story, in an email that such a policy was “not normal.”

“We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge,” said Moyer. “No legal professional or ordinary resident should carry on as if it is normal.”

The policy, which reportedly originally read, “Robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person,” was changed to, “Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweigh any other force option available to SFPD” by San Francisco Board supervisor, Aaron Peskin.

In speaking with Mission Local, Penskin said he decided to advance SFPD’s draft policy because the department made cases “there could be scenarios where deployment of lethal force was the only option.”

Such an excuse has been used for the justification of robotic lethal force in the past, like back in 2016, when Dallas police sent a robot to kill the sniper who killed five officers. Police loaded the robot with C-4 explosives and defended the use of force later.

“We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot for it to detonate where the suspect was. Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown told a news conference.

In fact, police forces have been using robots in their arsenal of defenses for a while now: From Honolulu to Fayetteville Arkansas, to York Pennsylvania — robots are used in everyday patrols or swat team situations to disarm explosives.

Likewise, other countries are outfitting their robots to actually pull the trigger, using sponge-tipped bullets, stun grenades, or tear gas, like in Israel. But even then. it has human monitoring to an extent.

“Again, it is very important to note that the systems are not automatic, meaning there is always a human soldier in the loop and he needs to actually press the trigger. The system will never fire on its own, and that’s a major item to remember,” Sharone Aloni, the vice president of Smart Shooter, said in an interview to AP.

Ever since Dallas’ use of the robot for deadly force, police departments have been slow to follow suit. Ethical questions about the practice arose, like could the robot have been armed with a non-lethal gas instead of using deadly force? 

Jay Stanley, an ACLU policy analyst at the time, wrote a blog post highlighting the issues that come with allowing police robots using lethal force in 2016.

“Our biggest concern is that armed robots will be over-used,” he wrote. “As robots allow deadly force to be applied more easily and with less risk to police officers, and as they get cheaper and more commonplace, there is a risk that they will turn into yet another avenue for abusive behavior by some in law enforcement.”

San Francisco’s board vote on the measure is slated for Tuesday, Nov. 29.

© 1998 - 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. | All Rights Reserved.

Trending on NewsNation