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Critics call NYPD’s drone deployment ‘a serious threat to privacy’

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Buzz buzz.
Buzz buzz.

Image: John M Lund Photography Inc / getty

Drones are coming to New York City, and that should worry you. 

So argues the New York Civil Liberties Union, which in a Dec. 7 statement blasts the forthcoming NYPD deployment of the flying surveillance bots as “a serious threat to privacy.” The 14 police drones, which the New York Times reports had been acquired by city police in June, are ostensibly to be used for tasks like keeping an eye on large crowds or hostage situations. However, critics see the deployment as the start of a very slippery, privacy-eroding slope. 

After all, large crowds of people often gather together to lawfully protest something like, say, police brutality. Or, as the NYPD specifically notes as a drone-appropriate example (according to the NYCLU), the Women’s March

“The NYPD’s drones are outfitted with cameras equipped with sophisticated technology and 4K resolution,” notes the NYCLU. “The mere presence of these police cameras can create a chilling effect on people exercising their rights to free speech, protest, and other lawful activities.”

Notably, the NYPD insists that the policy governing the use of its drones prohibits it from equipping the devices with facial recognition tech. However, as the NYCLU correctly points out, the carved out exception that allows police to use facial recognition tech on drone footage in the poorly defined case of a “public safety concern” is just begging to be abused.  

A M210 RTK drone.

A M210 RTK drone.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF / MASHBALE

“One of our biggest fears is that these devices could be used to spy on protesters legally exercising their constitutional rights,” notes the NYCLU. “The NYPD’s policy does little to quell our concerns.”

And it’s not like the NYPD has an unblemished record when it comes to surveilling those its members swore to protect and serve. 

According to the New York Times, the drones are a mix of Mavic Pro quadcopters, M210 RTK quadcopters, and a DJI Inspire quadcopter. And, if the NYCLU is right, you may soon need to get used to these things following you and your fellow citizens around. 

“[The] NYPD’s drone policy places no meaningful restrictions on police deployment of drones in New York City,” notes the group, adding “and opens the door to the police department building a permanent archive of drone footage of political activity and intimate private behavior visible only from the sky.”

Buzz buzz. Time to stock up on nice curtains. 

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