Skynet Delayed: Killer Robot Proposal Defeated in San Francisco

by | Dec 13, 2022

Skynet Delayed: Killer Robot Proposal Defeated in San Francisco

by | Dec 13, 2022

skynet

Under intense pressure from grassroots activists, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors reversed course and banned killer robots in the city. The San Francisco Police Department’s plan to arm robots came to light under a police militarization transparency law passed last year.

The SFPD owns 12 functioning robots used primarily for bomb disposal and reconnaissance in dangerous situations. The department acquired the robots between 2011 and 2017. According to an AP report, some of the robots were purchased with federal funds.

None of the robots came equipped with weapons, but the police department wanted the option to deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspects” in what they consider to be life-threatening situations.

Until last year, any such policy changes would have been made unilaterally by the SFPD. But, because of a law passed by the California legislature in late 2021, SFPD was required to not only give public notice, but get approval first.

Under AB481 sponsored by Asm. David Chiu (D) and a coalition of Democrats, law enforcement agencies must develop a detailed military equipment use policy and present it in an open meeting before obtaining military equipment. After the public meeting, the local governing body can either approve or deny the acquisition. Law enforcement agencies must also get local government approval to continue using existing military equipment and to change any existing use policy.

Because of the law, the San Francisco Police Department was forced to reveal its plans to arm robots, and get approval for the policy change from the board of supervisors. This brought it a lot of attention, both locally and nationally.

On Nov. 29, the board initially approved new language in the robot use policy by an 8-3 vote with a final vote scheduled for Dec. 6. The new policy stipulated that “robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD.”

News that the city had authorized “killer robots” set off a firestorm of opposition. A large coalition quickly mobilized in hopes of stopping authorization on the final vote. Within just a few days, 40 organizations, including the Tenth Amendment Center, signed onto a coalition letter opposing the policy.

The backlash was so strong that the board quickly reversed the decision Tuesday, sending some of the proposed policy back to a committee for further review. The 8-3 vote in support of the “killer robots” was quickly flipped when the Board voted unanimously to explicitly ban the use of robots in such a fashion for now.

But the battle isn’t over. The board sent the issue back to the Rules Committee for further review and public comment. That means the full board could still approve a revised policy allowing robots to use lethal force in the future.

For the time being, however, despite SFPD’s wishes, they are currently banned from arming robots with a deadly force option.

The Board’s surprising u-turn underscores the power of sunlight coupled with dedicated grassroots activism.

The law enacted by AB481 is relatively narrow in scope and doesn’t do anything to stop the militarization of police. But it does make the process of acquiring military-grade equipment more transparent. Prior to the enactment of this law, law enforcement agencies in California often acquired military equipment without anybody even knowing, much less approving it.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The vote was the result of a new state law that requires police departments to inventory equipment including certain guns, grenades, armored vehicles and battering rams and to seek explicit approval for their use. So far, only San Francisco and Oakland have discussed lethal robots as part of that law. Oakland police wanted to arm robots with shotguns but backed down in the face of public opposition, instead opting for pepper spray.

Of course, transparency alone doesn’t stop government actions. Oftentimes, government bodies simply rubber-stamp police requests. But when grassroots activists get involved, they can drive change, as we just saw with the killer robot policy.

Transparency sets the stage. It provides a means for the community to know exactly what its government is doing. As the old saying goes, sunlight is the best antiseptic. But ultimately, substantive changes in policy requires human action.

Initially, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was set to rubber-stamp law enforcement’s request for killer robots—even with public disclosure. But when activists got wind of the proposal and took action, they were able to exert enough pressure on government officials to reverse the bad policy.

Without AB481, nobody would have known about the killer robots. But without the concerted effort of concerned individuals pressuring government officials, they would have gotten killer robots anyway.

This article was originally featured at the Tenth Amendment Center and is republished with permission.

About Michael Maharrey

Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He also runs GodArchy.org, a site exploring the intersection of Christianity and politics. Michael is the author of the book, Constitution Owner's Manual: The Real Constitution the Politicians Don't Want You to Know About. You can visit his personal website at MichaelMaharrey.com, like him on Facebook HERE and follow him on Twitter @MMaharrey10th.

Our Books

latest book lineup.

Related Articles

Related

Embracing Deflation

Embracing Deflation

In recent years, the specter of inflation has loomed large over the global economy, fueled by unprecedented monetary stimulus measures and supply chain disruptions. As prices have surged, concerns about the erosion of purchasing power and the threat of runaway...

read more
One Hundred Years of IRS Political Targeting

One Hundred Years of IRS Political Targeting

One hundred years ago, Senator James Couzens, a Michigan Republican, took to the Senate floor to denounce the Bureau of Internal Revenue for abusing its power and trampling innocent taxpayers. Couzens launched a sweeping Senate investigation of federal tax collectors....

read more
Gold Is Doing Its Job

Gold Is Doing Its Job

On Monday, the U.S. Commerce Department announced it was awarding Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) a $6.6 billion CHIPS Act subsidy for the fabrication of computer microchips in Phoenix, Arizona. TSMC will also receive up to $5 billion in low-cost...

read more
TGIF: Why Isn’t Antifa Marching for Apple?

TGIF: Why Isn’t Antifa Marching for Apple?

I was all ready to don a black mask for the Antifa demonstration when I realized that the self-styled antifascists hadn't planned a demonstration. What are they waiting for? After all, the national government has just started a new fascistic crusade. You'd expect the...

read more
Israel Lets AI Decide Who Dies in Gaza

Israel Lets AI Decide Who Dies in Gaza

The Israeli military has employed yet another AI-based system to select bombing targets in the Gaza Strip, an investigation by +972 Magazine has revealed. The new system has generated sweeping kill lists condemning tens of thousands of Palestinians, part of the IDF’s...

read more