BERKELEY -- Speakers at Tuesday evening's City Council workshop to develop domestic drone policy ranged from those who called for making the city a "drone free zone," to supporters of limited drone use in police and fire emergencies.

The council made no policy recommendations at the workshop, but referred the issue for further study to the city's Agenda Committee.

Jack Hamm, vice chair of the Disaster Fire Safety Commission read his commission's resolution advocating drone use by Berkeley police and fire departments in "appropriate circumstances."

"To protect the privacy and civil rights of citizens of Berkeley, any drone operated by the city of Berkeley shall be operated only by the Berkeley Police Department or the Berkeley Fire Department for specific enumerated purposes in emergency situations," the resolution said. "Any other drone use must be approved by the Berkeley city manager, police chief or fire chief."

But the two other commissions looking at the question -- the Peace and Justice Commission and the Police Review Commission -- both called for a "no drone zone" in Berkeley.

"We believe the potential benefits of drones in a disaster-response setting to be outweighed by the hazard to public safety represented by unmanned aerial vehicles flying in Berkeley," Bob Meola, chair of the Peace and Justice Commission, told the council.


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Other cities already have domestic drone policies, including Charolottesville, Va. which has a two-year moratorium on drones, Lincoln, Neb., which has a complete ban on police department use, and Seattle which previously owned two drones but ordered their return to the manufacturer, Meola said.

Other speakers raised the specter of drones carrying cameras that can photograph through walls, possible abuse of the devices' facial recognition technology, and the almost imperceptible way they're able to hover overhead.

"The amount of personal information that can be collected is nothing short of staggering," said Tessa d'Arcangelew, representing the ACLU of Northern California.

But several graduate students studying drone technology at UC Berkeley said they fear the consequences regulations might have.

"We currently fly (unmanned aerial vehicles) on the UC Berkeley campus both in the indoor flying lab and outdoors flying space," said graduate student Kene Akametalu, arguing that regulations could hurt development of the technology.

"In the last year we have been contacted by several entrepreneurial ventures to collaborate with them in different ways," he said.

"Banning drone technology in Berkeley would constrain our research and would limit the opportunities for new research and entrepreneurial directions," Akametalu continued. "It would also make UC Berkeley less attractive to world-class researchers who work in this area, and give advantage to our competitors including MIT and Stanford."

Responding to the students, Councilman Max Anderson said they might have "visions of dot-com sugar plums dancing in their heads -- IPOs and stock splits -- but there's a larger context in which all these things happen. We've seen the misuse of technology."

Anderson called for further council study on the issue and cautioned, "Once you open the door to this without a regulatory foundation, the technology drives the politics and economics, not the ethics."

Councilman Laurie Capitelli said the UAVs may have a place in public safety.

"For me, I can certainly see some practical uses (of drones) for our fire department and police department," he said. "The real question is, can we develop the protocol and guidelines that protect the civil liberties of the citizens of Berkeley? If we can't do that, then I don't think we can go forward."

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