Controversy Erupts Over New York’s Labor Day Drone Surveillance Proposal


The use of surveillance drones by the New York City police to monitor large gatherings and noise complaints over Labor Day weekend has prompted outrage from privacy advocates.

Thursday, police announced that remote-controlled aircrafts would be used to monitor large gatherings, including private events, as New Yorkers prepared to celebrate the upcoming holiday weekend.

People in the city will also participate in the J’ouvert celebration and the West Indian Day parade.

Letitia James’s office, which has jurisdiction over fatalities involving police in New York, was conducting an investigation.

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“The drones are going to be responding to non-priority calls and priority calls,” said Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry of the New York Police Department (NYPD). “For example if we have any 311 calls on our non-emergency line, where if a caller states there is a large crowd, a large party in the back yard, we’re going to be utilizing our assets to go up, go check on the party to make sure if the call is founded or not.”

Daughtry continued, “We’ll be able to determine how many resources we need to send to that location for this weekend. We will have our drone team out there … all the way into Monday morning.”

Privacy advocates did not find Daughtry’s explanation convincing.

Daniel Schwarz, the senior privacy and technology strategist at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement to the Guardian, “Deploying surveillance drones over New Yorkers gathering with their friends and families to celebrate J’ouvert is racialized discrimination and it doesn’t make us safer.”

Schwarz also accused the police of “playing fast and loose” with the constitutional rights of New Yorkers to due process and to peacefully assemble. He added that the drone scheme was also contrary to the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act of 2021, which mandates that the New York City police publish impact and use policies for their surveillance technologies.

“As the NYPD keeps deploying these dystopian technologies, we must push for stricter guardrails – especially given the department’s lengthy history of surveilling and policing Black and brown communities,” he continued.

The executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Albert Fox Cahn, described the decision as a “terrible plan that never should have gotten off the ground.”

Cahn told the Guardian, “We see that there’s a real pattern with the NYPD and with Eric Adams (the New York City mayor) – whenever there’s a risk of bad headlines, they’ll turn to the next technology gimmick.”

“They did this when they rolled out drones in the middle of Times Square; they did it when the mayor was being attacked for failing to respond to the Canadian wildfire smoke; and he announced that they will be using drones as a public announcement system for emergencies,” Cahn said. As is the case here, it is a clear pattern for them to use technology as a PR ploy, even if it means violating the law.

Cahn then elaborated on the distinction between aircraft and helicopters and drones, which he described as “even more invasive because they can fly at such low altitudes.”

“I’m also worried about not just video recordings but potentially audio recordings,” he said, in addition to video recordings. “No one should have to worry that they’re going to be surveilled by the police on their own property or that they’ll have the NYPD showing up unannounced to their weekend barbecue.”

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Controversy Surrounds Drone Surveillance in New York

The use of surveillance drones by the New York City police to monitor large gatherings and noise complaints over Labor Day weekend has prompted outrage from privacy advocates.

In August, Adams visited Israel and praised the country’s drone technology, stating, “One thing that really caught my eye was utilizing motorcycles and drones together.”

The use of Israeli drones against Palestinians has been criticized as a form of psychological torture. Previously, the NYPD was scrutinized following reports of its covert surveillance operations in Muslim communities of New York City and other northeastern states.

Staff counsel at the non-profit digital liberties organization Electronic Frontier Foundation Hannah Zhao stated that warrants should be required for drone surveillance.

“Our position is that aerial surveillance via drones should require a warrant because drones are fundamentally different from helicopters or planes,” Zhao said. “They are smaller, easier to maneuver, and cost a minute fraction of the price to purchase and operate. It’s also much harder to surreptitiously spy on people with manned aircrafts because of their size and the amount of noise they make.”

Earlier this year, several state Democrats introduced a bill in the New York state senate to impose restrictions on the use of drones by law enforcement and prohibit their use at concerts, demonstrations, and other events afforded federal free speech protections.


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Source: The Guardian

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