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San Francisco Reconsiders Decision on Killer Police Robots

In a surprising reversal prompted by widespread public outcry, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has temporarily rescinded its decision to permit the city’s police department to use robots to kill people. This decision had sparked significant controversy and condemnation from various news outlets and civil rights organizations.

“There have been more killings at the hands of police than any other year on record nationwide,” District Supervisor Dean Preston stated. “We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.”

Just last week, the Board voted 8-3 in favor of a policy slate regarding the San Francisco Police Department’s (SFPD) use of military-grade equipment. This included the controversial measure of employing bomb-disposal robots to kill suspects, similar to the 2016 incident where Dallas police used a robot to eliminate a cornered shooting suspect. Initially, the Board had excluded language that would permit such lethal use of robots, but the SFPD later amended the policy to explicitly allow it.

The reasons behind the Board’s sudden change of stance remain unclear, but the intense public backlash at local, national, and international levels seems to have been a significant factor. The decision was widely criticized by global news outlets and local privacy and civil rights groups, who had already been protesting another Board of Supervisors’ vote that permitted the SFPD to access live video feeds from private cameras. On Monday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and 44 community groups signed a letter opposing the policy, arguing, “There is no basis to believe that robots toting explosives might be an exception to police overuse of deadly force. Using robots that are designed to disarm bombs to instead deliver them is a perfect example of this pattern of escalation, and of the militarization of the police force that concerns so many across the city.” The coalition also held a protest at City Hall on the same day.

Despite the reversal, the decision is not final. The issue has been referred back to the Rules Committee for further deliberation, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Matthew Guariglia, Policy Analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, emphasized that the community must remain vigilant. “Should the Rules Committee revisit the issue, the community must come together to stop this dangerous use of technology,” he stated.

Correction: This article previously misreported that Dean Preston had changed his vote. He voted against the proposal both times.