Updated: 06/04/2013 2:43 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert
A petition that seeks to ban the use of unmanned aerial vehicles - commonly referred to as drones - from law enforcement use in the state's largest county is due to be presented to the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners Tuesday after a rally on the Government Center plaza.
"There's all kinds of cameras on every corner and we don't want to see any more cameras in the skies," said Sam Richards, the organizer who started the online petition at Change.org.
As of Tuesday at 2 p.m., it had 728 signatures.
The petition and rally could help expand the burgeoning debate in Minnesota over the civilian use of unarmed drones.
As 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS revealed in March, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is leading the state's application to the FAA as Minnesota competes with 37 other states to be one of the first half-dozen civilian drone test sites nationwide.
Recent 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS stories so far this year have covered a recent congressional forum in Minneapolis about the issue, the first-of-its-kind drone school in the nation located in northwestern Minnesota, and the opening of a Minnesota National Guard drone facility at Camp Ripley.
"Since 9/11 and the decade that followed that with the war on terror, we've constantly seen our liberties getting whittled down," Richards explained in an interview Monday. "So, I'd like to start rallying people together and putting a stop to our rights being taken away."
The chairman of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, Mike Opat, acknowledged in an interview that "I'm studying the issue more than I have before."
He said he has asked the County Attorney's office for legal guidance on the drone issue. He plans to chair the commission meeting Tuesday when Richards and other petition supporters intend to speak.
"I think there are a lot of very interesting and sometimes troubling questions about this, about the technology and about who might use them and for what," Opat said. "So it'll be interesting to hear what they have to say."
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek expressed his belief that "there is a legitimate law enforcement use for unmanned aerial vehicles," and predicted they would join helicopters and light planes in the law enforcement "toolkit."
"I think it's inevitable at some point in the future, although maybe not today," he said.
"Our job is use technology to our advantage while, at the same time, again, protecting civil rights and privacy of our individual citizens."