Neil O’Brien, ASI senator at-large for parking and safety and vice president of Fresno State’s Young Americans for Liberty, speaks to fellow officers regarding the resolution on drones. Photo by Khlarissa Agee / The Collegian

Drone Resolution passed by ASI

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.” 

Neil O’Brien, ASI senator at-large for parking and safety and vice president of Fresno State’s Young Americans for Liberty, speaks to fellow officers regarding the resolution on drones.   Photo by Khlarissa Agee / The Collegian

Neil O’Brien, ASI senator at-large for parking and safety and vice president of Fresno State’s Young Americans for Liberty, speaks to fellow officers regarding the resolution on drones.
Photo by Khlarissa Agee / The Collegian

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.


  • Dan

    What nonsense! Stuff like this is why ASI is regarded by the greater mass of Fresno State students as a pathetic joke.

    Truth is, security drones are here, at least nationally. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fresno police don’t implement a program using military surplus equipment in the next few years. If so, they will fly them city-wide including campus. Fresno PD has always taken the position that their writ runs onto the Fresno State campus-FPD has come on campus at night or on the weekends typical and sat on the Barstow Ave stop signs, writing citations. They don’t tell UPD when they’re doing this. They won’t tell campus if and when they’re flying drones…

  • William S.

    It is good that ASI is involved in this issue toward protecting American liberties from unlawful surveillance. This is a slippery slope, one that can be misused by a simple policy shift. What is not being addressed, and should be taken up by the sciences, are the many practical uses for drones outside of law enforcement and military use. We need to focus on drone policies, codified into law, that clearly define scientific applications for drone use, such as mapping urban sprawl, combatting wildfires with real-time imaging, monitoring highway traffic flow for real time notification of accidents tied in with emergency response, or using sensors to monitor valley air pollution at varying degrees of altitude for research. There are many things drones can be used for without fear of encroaching on American civil liberties, and funding grants for those applications should be pursued.

  • Geof Lickey

    Ironic that a senator, famous for video taping people to prove guilt, is against drones video taping people to prove guilt….

  • Dan

    Unlawful surveillance? I hope you realize that police use helicopters and light aircraft for the same purpose that they would use drones for. The hysteria about drones is coming from a bunch of conspiracy theorists whose prattlings should be given short shrift…

    • William S.

      Warrantless surveillance is unlawful surveillance. Don’t overlook the larger issue that Americans are being coerced into giving up their Bill of Rights for grandiose thinking along the lines of “well, if you haven’t done anything wrong, then why wouldn’t you want a camera hovering above your head 24/7?” That isn’t freedom.

  • Dan

    William-good luck with your train of thought.

    The courts, including the Supreme Court, have settled the question of whether a warrant is required to view activities that are in plain view from the air or the ground. A search warrant is not required. I don’t have a problem with that.

    I’ve gotten the impression that the pro criminal and pro terrorist lobby landed on campus last week and seduced 10 senators to take leave of their senses. Sorry to say this, but the Occupy movement (by their own claim) was created by anarchists as their best shot of overthrowing the system. All one has to do is look at Oakland since September 2011 to see what Occupy truly stands for. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the hate groups and the loons.

    I personally want law enforcement to have the tools they need to keep the peace. A drone is, for me, preferable to the noisy helicopters. Don’t take me wrong, it would be nice to live in a society where this stuff wasn’t necessary. Unfortunately we don’t.