This Labor Day weekend, the New York City Police Force added an extra layer of protection with the use of drones. The Assistant Commissioner of the NYPD, Kaz Daughtry, recently announced that drones will be used to monitor large gatherings and backyard parties in the area as more traditional police routes such as the J’ouvert parade are patrolled. This announcement, while praised by some, does not come without its detractors.
Civil liberties groups have expressed their concerns over the potential misuse of drones in surveillance. The New York Civil Liberties Union’s privacy and technology strategist, Daniel Schwarz, believes that this kind of police activity treads into illegal territory. Similarly, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Albert Fox Cahn, declared the use of drones to spy on backyard barbecues a “step too far for many New Yorkers”.
Across the country, the use of drones by police forces has been on the rise this year, with 1,400 police departments currently in use. The New York Police Department has used drones for emergency purposes 124 times this year in comparison to only 4 times the year prior.
Mayor Eric Adams has been vocal about his support for the use of drones in public safety cases. He has cited a visit to Israel as evidence of effective use of this technology. Adams and the NYPD have been asked to disclose more details about the policy and ensure the rights and privacy of citizens remain intact.
Although the use of drones offers an extra layer of security, it also opens up the possibility of further compromising the right to privacy. In order for drones to be employed responsibly, all public organizations should review their policies so that individuals’ rights are protected.
It is clear that the use of drones in New York this weekend is a reflection of a much broader issue; how police forces everywhere should be balancing the security of its citizens with the protection of their civil liberties and privacy. Going forward, this debate will hopefully spark more conversations on the topic of surveillance technology and its implications for modern day policing.