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NYPD to dispatch drones to monitor backyard parties over Labor Day weekend; privacy advocates sound the alarm
Barry Williams for NY Daily News via Getty Images

NYPD to dispatch drones to monitor backyard parties over Labor Day weekend; privacy advocates sound the alarm

The New York Police Department will dispatch drones to monitor backyard parties and private social gatherings over Labor Day weekend in response to any complaints. However, some are saying that drone surveillance by police would be an invasion of privacy.

During a press conference on Thursday, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said of unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance, "If a caller states there is a large crowd, a large party in a backyard, we're going to be utilizing our assets to go up and check on the party."

Daughtry said the drones would respond to "non-priority and priority calls."

Some have said that the drone-monitoring of private gatherings would be a violation of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology, or POST Act, which "requires the NYPD to publish impact and use policies for the surveillance technologies used by the Department."

Passed by the New York City Council in June 2020, the POST Act requires the New York Police Department to reveal "information on surveillance technologies such as the description and capabilities, rules, processes, and guidelines, and any safeguards and security measures designed to protect the information collected."

"Upon publication of the draft surveillance impact and use policy, the public shall have a period of time to submit comments," the legislation states. "The commissioner of the department shall consider the comments and provide the final version of the surveillance impact and use policy to the Council, the Mayor and post to the Department’s website. The inspector general for the NYPD shall audit the surveillance impact and use policy to ensure compliance with its terms."

Privacy and civil liberties advocates immediately spoke out against the usage of drones to spy on people at private events.

Daniel Schwarz – a privacy and technology strategist at the New York Civil Liberties Union – told the Associated Press, "It's a troubling announcement and it flies in the face of the POST Act. Deploying drones in this way is a sci-fi-inspired scenario."

Albert Fox Cahn – the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project – said of the police drones, "One of the biggest concerns with the rush to roll out new forms of aerial surveillance is how few protections we have against seeing these cameras aimed at our backyards or even our bedrooms. Clearly, flying a drone over a backyard barbecue is a step too far for many New Yorkers."

The New York Police Department first announced its drone program in December 2018. At the time, the NYPD promised that the drone program would not be utilized for routine patrols, traffic enforcement, immobilizing vehicles or suspects, warrantless surveillance, or as a weapon.

The department vowed that the unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, would be used only to aid police officers in search and rescue missions, crime scene documentation, HAZMAT incidents, traffic and pedestrians at large events, hostage situations, and other emergency situations with approval by the chief of the NYPD.

The NYPD stated in April 2021:

When UAS are used to conduct aerial surveillance of areas exposed to public observation, court authorization is not required prior to their use. Absent exigent circumstances, a UAS 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. After a search warrant is issued, a UAS may be used for a pre-warrant execution safety survey. The warrant will be obtained with the assistance of the prosecutor with jurisdiction over the matter.

It was unclear whether the NYPD would obtain a warrant to monitor noise complaints at private events over Labor Day weekend.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press.

According to police data, the NYPD utilized drones for public safety or emergency purposes 124 times this year – skyrocketing from just four times in all of 2022.

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