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San Francisco approves use of deadly force for robots

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San Francisco city Supervisors voted 8-3 Tuesday to give the police force the ability to use remote-controlled robots that can potentially kill, in certain situations.

Earlier:

Eric Ting

SFGate, San Francisco

Amid blowback from civil rights groups, the San Francisco Police Department has offered more details on a draft policy that would allow police robots to use lethal force against suspects as a last-resort option.

A similar policy proposal was defeated in Oakland, where police sought to outfit certain robots with live shotgun rounds. In a statement to SFGATE, the SFPD clarified that it would not seek to arm any of its robots with firearms but rather with explosives as an “intermediate force option” that could prove to be lethal.

“The SFPD does not own or operate robots outfitted with lethal force options and the Department has no plans to outfit robots with any type of firearm,” spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement. “As an intermediate force option, robots could potentially be equipped with explosive charges to breach fortified structures containing violent, armed, or dangerous subjects or used to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect who pose a risk of loss of life to law enforcement or other first responders by use of any other method, approach, or contact.”

Maxie added, “While an explosive charge may be considered an intermediate force option, it could potentially cause injury or be lethal. Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives.”

The draft policy is scheduled to be voted on by the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Supervisor Aaron Peskin authored a line in the policy reading, “Robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person,” but an SFPD revision changed that language to “Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweigh any other force option available to SFPD.”

Peskin ultimately voted to advance the draft policy to the full board, telling Mission Local that the police argued “there could be scenarios where deployment of lethal force was the only option.”

In 2016, police in Dallas used a robot outfitted with explosives to kill a man who shot five police officers. Police argued there was no other way to engage the suspect.

“No policy can anticipate every conceivable situation or exceptional circumstance which officers may face,” Maxie said. “The SFPD must be prepared, and have the ability, to respond proportionally.”

The policy has faced strong criticism ahead of the Tuesday vote.

“We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge,” Tifanei Moyer of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area told Mission Local.

“We have to ask ourselves do we want to be in a society where police kill people with robots? It feels so deeply dehumanizing and militaristic,” Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law and information science professor, told NPR.

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