Was use of Dallas bomb robot legal? Ex Md. attorney general weighs in

WASHINGTON — The tactic by Dallas police to use a bomb robot to kill a sniper may be controversial, but former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler says it is not “inherently unconstitutional.”

“When there’s an evidentiary issue in court down the road, the difference will be merely that they’re going to have to bring in experts to explain that technology and the use of that technology, not whether or not it’s constitutional in that particular context,” Gansler said.

An ethical debate on the use of technology by police kicked off after law enforcement in Dallas rigged a bomb-disposal robot to kill an armed suspect they believe killed five police officers in what appears to be the first time that police have deployed a robot with lethal intent. The police shootings was the deadliest attack on law enforcement since the 2001 terrorist attack.

Gansler says where the constitution often comes into play regarding police policies is when a person’s privacy is at risk, such as situations involving the use of GPS devices, social media and decrypting messages on smart phones.

In those cases there’s a clash between the interests of law enforcement in stopping a crime or identifying criminals and the citizens’ individual constitutional rights to privacy, which take years to hash out in courtrooms.

But with technology advancing at rapid speed, new technologies will often be used and then ultimately tested in the courtrooms.

“That’s less of a concern when you have a gunman out on the streets or a sniper out on the streets where the police concern is not what’s going to happen in court but to capture or kill the person who is committing those crimes and the police are at that point far less concerned and much more willing to use military weapons than worrying about what’s going to happen in court down the road,” Gansler said.

WTOP’s Nick Iannelli contributed to this report.

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