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On NYC's Labor Day Weekend, a 'Sci-Fi Inspired Scenario'

NYPD says it will deploy surveillance drones to check on too-large holiday gatherings
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2023 5:30 AM CDT
On NYC's Labor Day Weekend, a 'Sci-Fi Inspired Scenario'
An NYPD or FDNY drone flies in New York City, with One World Trade Center visible in the background, on April 19.   (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)

Americans across the nation are gearing up for their final summer weekend, but for residents of New York City, there may be what the AP calls "an uninvited guest looming over their festivities." The NYPD announced Thursday it will deploy surveillance drones throughout Labor Day weekend to check on outdoor get-togethers—public and private—in an effort to address complaints on overly large gatherings, earning a side-eye from privacy and civil liberty advocates. "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," NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a presser, adding that the drones would be sent out for both "nonpriority and priority calls."

Engadget notes that the police department has used drones for some time, including for search and rescue operations and to fly over crime scenes. It has also used them for larger public events, such as New Year's Eve in Times Square, but the agency had vowed when it adopted the technology that it wouldn't use it for "warrantless surveillance"—making critics leery of this week's announcement. "'Nosy neighbors annoyed by backyard parties' is not on the list" of activities the NYPD originally stated it would use the drones for, notes the Verge. "It's a troubling announcement and it flies in the face of the POST Act," Daniel Schwarz, a privacy and tech strategist for the New York Civil Liberties Union, tells the AP. "Deploying drones in this way is a sci-fi inspired scenario."

Schwarz is referring to a 2020 law in the Big Apple that requires the NYPD to lay out its surveillance methods. Per the Verge, under that law the police force is supposed to give 90 days' notice before using the drones for any new kind of surveillance, so the public can comment, or add an update to its document on how it uses drones. That document notes: "Absent exigent circumstances, a UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] will not be used in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy without NYPD personnel first obtaining a search warrant that explicitly authorizes the use of a UAS." The drones are set to be launched through Monday morning. (More NYPD stories.)

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