By Beverly Fitzpatrick
Now that drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become a common news item locally and nationally, saying Fresno State University and drones in the same sentence might seem strange. With all the media attention, we all have knowledge as to what a UAV is, as well as the various uses and outcomes.
Actually, Fresno State has been in the drone business, so to speak, for 10 years. In 2003, in a Joint Mechanical/Electrical/Computer Engineering Development, Fresno State in conjunction with Edwards Air Force Base had a program titled the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Laser Targeting Project (www.csufuav.com/).
Even knowing that information, it was surprising to find an item on the March 6 agenda of the Associated Students Inc. (ASI) Student Senate meeting. The agenda item was an action item on a resolution to ban the use of law enforcement and military-style surveillance drones on the Fresno State campus.
The following is from an ASI press release dated March 7:
(FRESNO, Calif.)—Wednesday, March 6, Fresno State. Associated Students Inc. (ASI) voted on a resolution showing their support opposing the domestic use of drones to gather personal information on Fresno State students. With ten senators in support of this opposition and four abstaining from voting, the resolution passed.
The resolution passed begins—Whereas, the increasing trend of implementing military hardware such as drones in the United States presents a serious threat to the privacy rights of Americans and the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens—specifically Fresno State students.
The resolution then concludes—The Fresno State ASI student government encourages…legislation and policies that prohibit the domestic use of drones to gather information on U.S. Citizens, and the use of other drones equipped with anti-personnel devices or other methods designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact an American citizen.
The resolution passed by ASI does not hold the attempt or purpose to infringe on Fresno State academic ruling.
Currently, the Fresno State campus does not use military drones. The resolution can be found in its entirely at www.fresnostate.edu/studentaffairs/asi/documents/Drone%20Resolution%20Passed%203.6.13.pdf.
The public, students and members of the community were invited, to attend the meeting and speak to the resolution through a press release sent out by Neil O’Brien, ASI senator for parking and safety.
O’Brien, vice president of Young Americans for Liberty–Fresno State Chapter, has been the driving force behind the effort to pass the resolution. According to his Facebook page (www.facebook.com/FSWatchdog), he has appeared with Brett Winterble on LIVE National radio and J.D. Hayworth on Power Talk’s Bill Manders show to discuss Fresno State’s military-funded surveillance drone research program and the ASI resolution.
On the Manders show, which was hosted that evening by Hayworth, O’Brien said that he decided to author and promote the resolution after hearing the university police chief speak at a Student 101 Leadership series. The police chief had stated that within 10 years the the Fresno State campus police department would be using surveillance drones.
O’Brien was also critical of a faculty member who opposed the resolution. O’Brien said during this interview that a faculty member from the Engineering Department stated that the program in which the university is involved is an Ag program, calling it a UAS, or unmanned aerial system, not a drone. The faculty member did, however, state that the UAS would be used for ground surveillance. O’Brien continued to explain that the co-application from the university with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lists the funding as coming from the Department of Defense.
In conclusion, O’Brien sees his responsibility as senator of parking and safety to protect the civil liberties of all the students, thus the resolution was brought forward and eventually passed by the ASI. O’Brien said he hopes the Fresno State Faculty Senate will follow his example with similar legislation.
Once ASI has taken an opinion on this matter, it will be forwarded to the faculty senate.
According to an article in Campus Reform by Timothy Dionisopoulos on March 7:
Dr. Kriehn, a professor in the Lyles College of Engineering, who spearheads Fresno’s unmanned aerial systems program, stated he does not have an issue with the resolution.
“Sure I spoke to the committee that was putting this together to clarify what we were doing, and they chose to put that clarification point in the resolution which I was very thankful for. I don’t have a problem with it [the resolution]” said Kriehn.
Other Fresno State administrators in the Police Department, and Public Information Office, would not comment on the drones program to Campus Reform.
By coincidence, this vote took place during the 13-hour filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) on the floor of the Senate challenging our use of domestic drones.
It is also noteworthy that many universities are requesting permission to use aerial drones in America’s skies. The list, which includes Fresno State and UC Merced, can be found at www.eff.org/document/2012-faa-list-drone-applicants. Fresno State is No. 4 on the list.
How does the Fresno State resolution connect to the Fresno community as a whole? Fresno’s police chief, Jerry Dyer, says he has no interest in drones, but he also says that he expects drones to come into common law enforcement use in the next five years. We have known for a while about the militarization of America’s police forces; low-cost surplus supplies from the deescalating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped to hasten that process.
With the anti-surveillance state movement gaining traction and following Charlottesville, Va., becoming the first city to pass anti-drone legislation, the engaged citizenry of Seattle succeeded in killing that city’s drone program in March. On the state level, while legislation has been introduced in several places, it appears Florida is closest to enacting domestic surveillance drone regulations into law.
In light of the Fresno State resolution, the time has come for the residents of Fresno to present a resolution to the Fresno City Council and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.
Beverly Fitzpatrick is a retired school teacher, a homeless advocate and current president of Peace Fresno. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.