The NYPD plans to use drones to monitor large gatherings over Labor Day weekend, sparking backlash from privacy advocates who question its legality. Mayor Adams supports drone use for policing, but critics argue that regulations haven’t kept up with technology, leading to potentially illegal surveillance. Currently, about 1,400 US police departments use drones, and their use is expected to increase. Albert Fox Cahn of STOP calls for transparency and clear guardrails to prevent surveillance overreach, noting that many New Yorkers find backyard surveillance unacceptable.
The New York City Police Department (NYPD) plans to use unmanned police surveillance drones to monitor large gatherings, including private events, over Labor Day weekend. This decision, announced by officials, is in response to complaints about large crowds and is part of a pilot program. However, the move has sparked immediate backlash from privacy and civil liberties advocates, who question whether such drone use violates existing laws for police surveillance.
Mayor Eric Adams supports the use of drones for policing purposes, citing Israel’s use of the technology as a blueprint. However, privacy advocates argue that regulations have not kept pace with the technology, leading to potentially intrusive surveillance that would be illegal if conducted by a human police officer. The NYPD did not respond to requests for further information about its drone policies, and a spokesperson for Mayor Adams shared new guidelines for private drone operators but did not address NYPD’s drone surveillance policies.
Currently, around 1,400 police departments across the United States use drones in some form, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Although federal rules generally limit drones to flying within the operator’s line of sight, many departments have requested exemptions. The report predicts that drone use among police departments is “poised to explode.”
Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), said city officials should be more transparent about how police are currently using drones and establish clear guardrails to prevent surveillance overreach in the future. He noted that flying a drone over a backyard barbecue is a step too far for many New Yorkers.