Those at an outdoor party or barbecue in New York City this weekend may have noticed an uninvited guest looming in the midst of their festivities: a police surveillance drone.
The New York City Police Department plans to test-fly drones in response to complaints about large gatherings, including private events, over Labor Day weekend, officials announced Thursday.
“If the caller says there’s a large group of people in the backyard and there’s a large party going on, we’re going to use our assets to go and check on the party,” NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a news conference. .
The plan drew an immediate backlash from privacy and civil liberties advocates, raising questions about whether such drone use would violate existing police surveillance laws
“This is a troubling announcement that runs counter to the Postal Act,” said Daniel Schwarz, a privacy and technology strategist at the Civil Liberties Union of New York. 2020 City Law That requires the NYPD to disclose its surveillance tactics. “Deploying drones in this way is a sci-fi inspired scenario.”
The move was announced at a safety briefing themed around J’ouvert, the annual Caribbean festival that marks the end of slavery, which drew thousands of revelers and a heavy police presence on the streets of Brooklyn Garrison. Dautry said the drones would respond to “non-priority and priority calls” outside the parade route.
Like many cities, New York is increasingly relying on drones for policing. Data maintained by the city shows that police departments have used drones 124 times this year for public safety or emergency purposes, compared to just four in all of 2022.Earlier this year, after a parking lot collapsed, and when a giveaway turned into teenage chaos.
Former police captain and Mayor Eric Adams said he wanted to see police further embrace the “unlimited” potential of drones, citing Israel’s use of the technology after a visit to the country last week as a blueprint.
But as the technology proliferates, privacy advocates say regulations have not kept up, opening the door to intrusive surveillance that would be illegal if conducted by human police.
Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of Surveillance Technology Watchdog, said: “One of the biggest concerns in the rush to roll out new types of aerial surveillance is that we have too little protection for these cameras against our backyards and even our bedrooms. .” item (Stop).
The NYPD did not respond to emails seeking more information about its drone policy.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Mayor Adams shared a link new guidelines This makes it easier for private drone operators to fly in cities, but it doesn’t address whether the NYPD has any drone surveillance policies.
About 1,400 police departments across the country are currently using drones in some form, according to one agency. recent report From the American Civil Liberties Union. Under federal rules, they are generally limited to flying within the operator’s line of sight, though many departments have asked for an exemption. The report predicts that the use of drones will “explode” in police departments.
Kahn, the privacy advocate, said city officials should be more transparent with the public about how police are currently using drones and put in place clear guardrails to prevent future surveillance expansion.
“Obviously, for many New Yorkers, flying a drone over a backyard barbecue is going too far,” Kahn said.