"This is incredibly invasive and downright creepy."
If you're planning to host a Labor Day party in New York City this weekend, you might want to keep one eye on the skies.
As the Associated Press reports, the NYPD plans to use its drone fleet to surveil large crowds this weekend, including those congregating at private backyard events. Per the AP, the news was announced during a press conference regarding safety at the Caribbean J'Ouvert celebration and the West Indian American Day parade, two converging events taking place in Brooklyn over the holiday weekend.
"If a caller states there's a large crowd, a large party in a backyard," said Kaz Daughtry, the assistant NYPD Commissioner, according to the AP, "we're going to be utilizing our assets to go up and go check on the party."
Barbecue with a side of dystopian surveillance, anyone?
The announcement has unsurprisingly been met with swift backlash from civil rights advocates, who argue that the skyborne surveillance action infringes on residents' privacy rights.
"It's a troubling announcement and it flies in the face of the POST Act," Daniel Schwarz, a privacy and technology strategist at the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the AP. (The POST Act, as referenced by Schwarz, is a city law passed in 2020 necessitating that the NYPD makes its surveillance practices public knowledge.) "Deploying drones in this way," he added, "is a sci-fi-inspired scenario."
Elsewhere, Schwarz emphasized the fact that the surveillance effort is specifically targeting events celebrating racial minority communities — a detail, he says, that shouldn't go unnoticed.
"Deploying surveillance drones over New Yorkers gathering with their friends and families to celebrate J'Ouvert is racialized discrimination and it doesn't make us safer," Schwarz told The New York Times in a statement. "As the NYPD keeps deploying these dystopian technologies, we must push for stricter guardrails — especially given the department's lengthy history of surveilling and policing Black and brown communities."
The NYPD, for its part, is effectively championing its drone use as a preventative safety measure; last year, the weekend's festivities were blighted by multiple neighborhood shootings, with police seizing 27 guns from the crowd throughout the weekend, according to The Washington Post. But while safety is obviously important, preemptive, drone-enabled backyard spying, to many, is not just undue, but simply goes way too far into surveillance state territory.
"This is really alarming," Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), told WaPo. "A plan to send drones into people's backyards just for having a barbecue should have never gotten off the ground."
"This is incredibly invasive," he added, "and downright creepy."
More on NYC Mayor Eric Adams' deep love for surveillance tech: The NYPD Is Bringing Back Its Widely Hated Robodog
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