The demonstration was outside a hotel where representatives from academia, industry and government were meeting for a technical conference on unmanned aircraft systems. Protesters stood along the busy street in front of the hotel holding signs protesting drone use as commuters drove by.
“In the right hands, drones can be used for some very constructive purposes. They can be used to monitor environmental spills or count bird populations or locate missing children,” said protest organizer Bob Goodman of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition. “But in the wrong hands — for instance in the hands of the White House or the military or the CIA — drones can be used in lawless and destructive ways.”
The conference and protest come amid growing criticism of America’s use of Predator and Reaper drones to gather intelligence and carry out lethal missile attacks against terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Speakers at the protest cited civilian casualties caused by drone strikes in those countries as an argument against what one called “death by remote control.”
President Barack Obama last week made public newly established drone guidelines. Among the rules is a preference for capturing suspects instead of killing them, which gives the U.S. an opportunity to gather intelligence and disrupt terrorist plots. The guidelines also state that a target must pose a continuing and imminent threat to the U.S.
Azadeh Shahshahani, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, applauded the steps taken by the president but said at the protest Tuesday that problems remain.
“The president still claims broad authority to carry out targeted killings far from any battlefield, and there’s still insufficient transparency,” she said.
Organizers of the 2013 International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems said they were surprised to hear about a protest outside the hotel where they were holding workshops and tutorials Tuesday. The conference is largely academic and looks primarily at civilian applications of the technology, said Matthew Rutherford, a conference organizer who is a computer science professor at the University of Denver.
“What we study is control and collaboration, really technical topics related to aircraft systems, and the application domains really are civilian applications, for example, wildfire monitoring or emergency response,” Rutherford said.