New NYPD Drone Coverage Represents a Critical Menace to Privateness

The police division’s drone coverage locations no significant restrictions on the invasive know-how’s use and threatens New Yorkers’ privateness.

The New York Police Division introduced this week that it’s going to deploy 14 new drones as a part of its policing actions throughout New York Metropolis. Using this extremely invasive know-how represents a brand new frontier for each public security and abuses of energy.

The division did attain out to the NYCLU to ask us for enter on a draft of the coverage governing using its drones. However whereas the division did make some adjustments primarily based on our suggestions, we stay deeply involved concerning the coverage’s critical shortcomings.

First, it’s necessary to know simply how highly effective drones are. The NYPD’s drones are outfitted with cameras outfitted with refined know-how and 4K decision. The mere presence of those police cameras can create a chilling impact on individuals exercising their rights to free speech, protest, and different lawful actions.

As a result of they’re so small, nimble, and comparatively cheap, drones are in lots of instances way more enticing surveillance instruments than, say, police helicopters. Mass-deploying helicopters is prohibitively costly, however frequently utilizing drones is way more possible. And, as a result of they’re small, they will fly in locations helicopters can’t attain, like into an individual’s storage or simply outdoors a bed room window.

Given how simple drones make surveillance and the NYPD’s troubling historical past of illegal spying, it’s essential that the insurance policies that govern their use put strict limits on when and the place they are often deployed.

The division’s coverage permits drones for use to watch car site visitors and pedestrian congestion at giant scale occasions in addition to rooftop safety remark at shootings or “giant scale occasions.” However the coverage doesn’t clearly outline what a “giant scale occasion” is. The division talked about the Ladies’s March and Instances Sq. New 12 months’s Eve celebrations, however it’s unclear what smaller occasions may set off using drones.

Certainly one of our largest fears is that these gadgets could possibly be used to spy on protesters legally exercising their constitutional rights. The NYPD’s coverage does little to quell our issues.

The coverage additionally permits the NYPD’s chief of division to approve requests from officers to make use of drones for “public security or emergency conditions.” What constitutes public security or emergency conditions stays undefined, leaving extensive open the chance that these phrases might be utilized to a broad vary of situations. We advised the division that it ought to higher outline these phrases, however our advice went unheeded within the closing coverage.

One bit of fine information within the coverage is that it particularly forbids equipping the drones with facial recognition know-how. However this excellent news is tempered by the truth that the coverage doesn’t forbid the division from going again and utilizing this know-how on the footage captured by the drones’ cameras.

Facial recognition know-how is extremely invasive and liable to error, particularly when making an attempt to establish younger individuals and other people of coloration. Its use on drone footage, which may doubtlessly seize the actions of a whole bunch of hundreds of New Yorkers, poses a extreme privateness threat.

We raised our issues with the NYPD, and the division did find yourself together with a prohibition on utilizing face surveillance on drone footage. However the closing coverage features a loophole for this ban within the case of a “public security concern.” As soon as once more, this time period is undefined and will doubtlessly create an exception so massive it swallows the rule.

Lastly, we advisable that the NYPD solely preserve footage captured by drones for 24 hours, absent particular, well-defined causes for holding on to it for longer. The longer the NYPD retains the footage, and the extra footage there may be, the better the probabilities are that it is going to be misused.

The NYPD’s closing coverage says footage might be stored for 30 days, however it additionally consists of some particular — and one very non-specific — examples of when retention could be prolonged past that restrict. The retention interval will be prolonged “if the pictures are wanted for civil litigation, subpoena manufacturing, FOIL requests or different authorized course of.” Whereas “different authorized course of” is undefined and will represent one other troubling loophole, the opposite situations monitor with our suggestions.  

General, the NYPD’s drone coverage locations no significant restrictions on police deployment of drones in New York Metropolis and opens the door to the police division constructing a everlasting archive of drone footage of political exercise and intimate personal conduct seen solely from the sky. Whereas we recognize the NYPD’s willingness to fulfill with us earlier than it introduced this program, the division ought to have executed extra to have interaction straight with the communities most definitely to be impacted by this new know-how.
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