Community Not Cages opposes the normalization of state surveillance and Winona County’s access to a FLIR, a drone equipped with heat sensing technology.
On Tuesday, January 26th, the County Board will conduct a Public Hearing in regards to the Sheriff’s Dept. adding another “unmanned aerial vehicle” or drone to their fleet. This drone allows visual surveillance, is equipped with heat-sensing technology and can be equipped with audio capabilities. The Winona County Sheriff’s department currently has 6 drones in their possession, including their newest purchase. As required by MN legislation, the acquisition of a new drone requires a public hearing. According to the same legislation, the “law enforcement agency must provide an opportunity for public comment before it purchases or uses a UAV.”
In recent reporting from the Winona Post, Sheriff Ron Ganrude said that “the new drone didn’t cost the county any money because it was financed with the insurance claim from the loss of an older drone, which itself was financed through donations.” Is it public knowledge who is donating surveillance technology to the department?
There was unprecedented use of aerial surveillance technology this summer during the uprising in Minneapolis and nationwide in response to anti-Black state violence, which included drones. In fact, Customs and Border Protection was discovered flying a high-altitude Predator drone above the protests in Minneapolis. The use of such intrusive monitoring is especially concerning because it involved surveillance of people protesting state violence. As the American Civil Liberties Union point out, “Given the role that aerial surveillance has played in the George Floyd and other protests, as well as the tsunami of new aerial surveillance technologies that are coming our way, such capabilities should be part of the conversation over police divestment that the recent protests have sparked.”
Making a public comment is the best way to make clear you don’t support police access to this surveillance, but if you can’t make it Tuesday, let commissioners know!