It was a routine senate meeting for Associated Students Inc. (ASI), with the president, vice presidents—executive, external affairs and finance—overseeing the proceedings. Yet, something was astir. More than 15 students sat in the audience, filling half the seats in Student Union, Room 312-314.
Proceeding through the agenda, the officers reached item 8.2, “Resolution Condemning Surveillance Drones.”
The item required the senators to either approve a resolution by which ASI would be making known its contempt for security drones, or table the matter to an indefinite time or postpone the issue to the next meeting, March 20.
They passed the resolution, with 10 senators having approved.
The resolution, drafted by parking and safety senator at-large Neil O’Brien, was a reaction to two occurrences. For O’Brien, who is also vice president of the Fresno State chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, the occurrences relate to each other in terms of students’ rights, though the events do not reflect any premeditated relationship. In creating this resolution, O’Brien insists the terms would not limit campus researchers from using unmanned aerial systems as long as such research does not include campus security.
In 2010, Gregory Kriehn, professor of electrical and computer engineering, applied for a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration. Kriehn said the COA was filed because the FAA restructured its requirements for unmanned aircraft. In order to be in accordance with this—in case they fly drones within the heights of the National Air Space — the FAA requires the certificate. Since then the Lyles College of Engineering has been doing academic research on the aircraft.
“We don’t have a drone program here in the college. We have an unmanned system research program, and the intended application never has been, never will be, for infringing on the rights of students, faculty, administration, etc.,” Kriehn said.
O’Brien found out about the COA from a Huffington Post article listing 81 organizations that had applied for the certificate from the FAA. Fresno State was one of these. O’Brien cites the Lyles College’s work with Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), as a reason for his questioning the motives of the university.
According to Kriehn’s curriculum vitae — something pointed out by O’Brien during the ASI resolution proceeding — the graduate work he advises using UAS is being developed for Edwards AFB. Kriehn has defended this position saying the funding by the Air Force is not for surveillance reasons.
“The research money that was given was never intended to be super-long-term or anything other than to just get our feet off the ground, and that if we wanted to make this sustainable research program we need to find alternate sources of funding,” he said. “So once we learned how to just do basic UAS research, that contract was fulfilled and ever since then we’ve been getting internal sources of funding.”
Kriehn cited the many Air Force personnel who have graduated from Fresno State, saying that this prompted Edwards AFB to invest research time and money into the Lyles College of Engineering. He said the money is for academic research, and annual visits to Edwards AFB are required in order for Air Force officials to note the progress on research they have funded.
Alongside the concerns of the Lyles College’s relationship with the Air Force, O’Brien includes the remarks of Fresno State’s police chief, David Huerta, at a Fresno State 101 presentation.
O’Brien says that at that presentation, Huerta mentioned the eventual use of drones.
“What started this resolution initially was comments made at Fresno State 101, where the police chief made off-base comments that within 10 years he anticipates his department will implement the use of surveillance drones,” O’Brien said. “And whether it was serious comment or just identifying the growing use of military equipment, that’s an issue.”
Though it concerns the engineering department and speculation regarding surveillance, the resolution has sparked concerns over campus safety and privacy rights.
Kristin Cartier, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, sees the resolution as a hindrance to professor Kriehn’s research and student opportunities. For Cartier, work with UAVs, provides students with skills valuable to employers.
“It opens the door for students to get job opportunities with Edwards AFB. They can get their hands dirty with aeronautics,” she said. “We don’t have that sort of opportunity here. For engineers, it’s really crucial.”
Though Kriehn’s research does not reflect immediate use of UAVs for campus security purposes, Cartier sees potential use of UAVs for surveillance as a positive.
“Fresno State had a lot of safety concerns . . . I’m here until 10 o’ clock at night. I have to walk out to the car, all the way to the parking lot. Two years ago, there was a girl who got stabbed,” Cartier said.
Justin Thomason, executive director for College Republicans, takes a different stance regarding UAVs.
“It’s a step into Orwellian society,” he said.
For Thomason, the use of UAVs as a campus security measure would not be an effective step in curbing campus crime.
“This idea that a drone will protect students from say, a person coming on campus and shooting at the school or kids walking home at night over by Bulldog village, the drone is not going to be able to stop them,” he said. “The police are still going to have to get there. And we have enough security cameras on campus already.”
During the ASI meeting, vice president for external affairs Sean Kiernan reiterated the limits of ASI resolutions of this nature.
“This is a resolution condemning the use of surveillance drones. We don’t have the power to flat out ban them. This is just taking a position saying that ASI is against that,” he said.