Alameda County Sheriff: Too Busy Testing Drones to Tell You About Them
In mid-October, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office revealed that it was seeking funds to purchase a drone to engage in unspecified unmanned aerial surveillance. The ACLU of Northern California immediately sent a Public Records Act request seeking answers to three basic questions: 1) Are drones really necessary in our community; 2) How much will they cost to acquire, operate, and maintain; and 3) What safeguards will be in place to protect our privacy? The decision to buy a drone is a hugely important public policy question that needs to be debated through an open and transparent process, with full and informed participation by the community and our civilian elected leaders. This should not be a unilateral decision made by law enforcement. Unfortunately, while the Sheriff s Office has found the time to test a drone this past weekend, it is now dragging its feet in providing information that is responsive to our request and essential for that public debate to occur.
We just received this response from County Counsel, responding on behalf of the Sheriff, and saying that while "ACSO does have public records responsive to some of [the ACLU's] requests," they need another two weeks (until November 9, 2012) just to tell us how much it will cost to reproduce the documents. And then they are not going to hand over any documents until they have a check in hand from us.
Public agencies in California have a statutory obligation to "make the records promptly available" upon receiving a request for public records. See Cal. Gov. Code §6253(b). We've reminded the County of its obligations in this letter. And we're looking forward to a prompt response.
When it comes to matters affecting our constitutional right to privacy, the public deserves transparency.
Linda Lye is a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.