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Red State
Red State
2 Sep 2023
Jeff Charles


NextImg:Big Brother at Your BBQ? NYPD Criticized for Plan to Fly Drones Over Private Parties on Labor Day Weekend

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is celebrating Labor Day weekend by participating in one of government’s favorite pastimes: Surveillance. Earlier this week, the agency reportedly announced that it would be flying drones over the city – including private property – to ensure that everyone is on their best behavior.

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Naturally, the action has elicited criticism from people arguing that it violates people’s privacy and constitutes unwarranted surveillance. Nevertheless, the NYPD is persisting:

Those attending outdoor parties or barbecues in New York City this weekend may notice an uninvited guest looming over their festivities: a police surveillance drone.

The New York City police department plans to pilot the unmanned aircrafts in response to complaints about large gatherings, including private events, over Labor Day weekend, officials announced Thursday.

“If a caller states there’s a large crowd, a large party in a backyard, we’re going to be utilizing our assets to go up and go check on the party,” Kaz Daughtry, the assistant NYPD Commissioner, said at a press conference.

The drones will take pictures, which will be sent to law enforcement ostensibly to facilitate more efficient responses to emergencies:

The drones will send images to a control operations unit inside police headquarters. The images will help field commanders determine how many officers to send to a scene, authorities said. Chell has said that drones can respond to calls quicker than a patrol car, especially during crowded events.

Thousands of officers will be patrolling central and south Brooklyn throughout the long weekend across several police bureaus, including counterterrorism and intelligence units, patrol officers, detectives, and community affairs officers. Police will also use license plate readers along the parade route to scan for stolen cars, officials said on Thursday.

“Last year was one of our safest and most successful Labor Days on record, and we intend to achieve the same results this year,” Chell said.

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This move appears to be part of a larger push to employ the widespread use of drones over the city to aid in law enforcement efforts. Mayor Eric Adams is a huge fan of the idea and once said he would like to see the police take advantage of the “endless” potential of unmanned drones. He praised Israel’s use of the technology during a recent visit to the country.

While the NYPD insists that its drone program will not be used for nefarious purposes, it should raise concerns about government surveillance. The measure could be problematic from a Fourth Amendment perspective.

For starters, the notion that law enforcement could have drones hovering over private events while capturing images and audio might run afoul of Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. Indeed, even if the devices are used on public property, it would be easy for them to also capture details from private areas like backyards.

Other critics suggest that the drone program violates New York City’s POST Act (the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act), which requires the agency to disclose the surveillance tactics it employs. The legislation is intended to promote public oversight over how law enforcement uses surveillance technology on New York City residents.

Daniel Schwarz, a privacy and technology strategist at the New York Civil Liberties Union, slammed the plan, referring to it as “a sci-fi inspired scenario” that violates the POST Act. This means that not only is the city in jeopardy of violating the Constitution, but it could also be infringing on city law as well.

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It is not too difficult to imagine how such a program could be abused. Indeed, this is not a theoretical scenario; governments have employed tyrannical surveillance programs for centuries. The drone initiative could be used to spy on political dissidents, activists, and others whom a corrupt government official might wish to target.

Moreover, it is also worth noting that Israel’s drone program is not intended to be used in the same way that Mayor Adams would like to see in New York City. The country uses drones for military purposes and to protect national security from terrorism and other potential threats. It is not flying drones over people’s property just to make sure everyone is minding their Ps and Qs.

There could be areas in which law enforcement agencies can use drones to fulfill what should be their only mandate: To protect people’s rights. Indeed, it is a tool that might help to curb crime. But if there is not enough oversight over these programs, it won’t be long before they are abused.