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NYPD using surveillance drones to monitor Labor Day parties

Like many cities, New York has increasingly relied on drones for surveillance and policing purposes. But is it legal?
Posted at 2:40 PM, Sep 01, 2023

Labor Day celebrations are sure to be underway in New York City this weekend, but now people have more than just burnt hot dogs and intoxicated friends to worry about: Police surveillance drones crashing the party.

The New York City Police department announced that it plans to use unmanned aircraft to respond to noise complaints and large gatherings, including private events, over the holiday weekend.

"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 to make sure if the call is founded or not," assistant NYPD Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a live press conference Thursday.

However, the department mentioned that Labor Day won't be the only event being celebrated this weekend. Police will also be focused on J’Ouvert, an annual Caribbean festival that marks the end of slavery and draws thousands of revelers to the city.

However, as the Associated Press reported, the drone plan raises some serious concerns about privacy and whether it violates existing police surveillance laws. New York City's POST Act requires police to share any plans on new surveillance technology at least 90 days prior, allowing the public time to comment. But in this instance, the department has not done so.

While the NYPD did publish a document in 2021 listing ways it plans to use drones for surveillance and responding to crime scenes, it didn't mention anything related to nosy neighbors complaining about backyard parties.

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Like many cities, New York has increasingly relied on drones for surveillance and policing purposes. According to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, some 1,400 police departments across the country are currently using drones at some capacity. 

"American police departments have begun making the case that they should be permitted to fly drones broadly across cities and towns for purposes such as responding to emergencies, but they are already being used far more broadly than many realize, and their use is likely to broaden even more," said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "We recommend that communities put in place statutory guardrails to ensure that drone use does not overspill reasonable limits, and that they do not initiate DFR (Drone as First Responder) programs until we have a better sense of how this technology is playing out in the real world."