As New York City police officers ready themselves this Labor Day weekend for events such as J’ouvert, they’re adding an extra layer of support in the sky — drones.
According to the New York Police Department, drones will be used to monitor any “large gatherings” or “backyard parties” that come to their attention as well as other non-priority and priority calls beyond the route of the parade.
The announcement by Assistant NYPD Commissioner Kaz Daughtry has been met with much criticism from civil liberties groups. Many point out that the use of drones could tread into illegal surveillance territory.
The New York Civil Liberties Union’s privacy and technology strategist, Daniel Schwarz, said the unprecedented use of drones for policing is of great concern. “It’s a troubling announcement and it flies in the face of the POST Act,” he said, referring to a 2020 city law that requires the NYPD to disclose its surveillance tactics.
Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, mirrored this sentiment, saying that there is a lack of clear rules when it comes to using drones in policing.
“It’s clear that flying a drone over a backyard barbecue is a step too far for many New Yorkers,” he said.
The boom in drone use among police forces across the country is no surprise. According to the American Civil Liberty Union, 1,400 police departments are currently using drones in some form.
For the police department in New York, this is an extension of a policy that has seen an increasing use of drones in public safety and emergency situations. According to the city data, the NYPD has used drones for emergencies 124 times this year, compared to only four times in 2022.
Mayor Eric Adams has gone on the record as a strong advocate of drone technology, citing a visit to Israel as an example of how it’s being used correctly.
However, it appears this drone usage has put pressure on the city officials to disclose more information about their policies, to ensure that the public is made aware of its limits.
What’s become clear is that there is a way for the NYPD to use drones responsibly without compromising individual privacy rights, and how they will achieve this remains to be seen.
Overall, the issues with drone use are a reminder of the ever-changing landscape of surveillance technology and its implications of privacy in modern-day policing. As such, all public organizations would do well to review their policies and procedures so that everyone’s rights are respected and protected.