A fleet of 14 NYPD drones whose sensors can see and record people’s lives even behind walls is getting some pushback from privacy activists who want greater guarantees that the NYPD will only use these technologies in lawful ways.
Albert Fox Cahn and Vanessa Gibson explore the issue of NYD drone deployment in this report from Just Security:
Warrantless infrared imaging crossed the line of legality for the Supreme Court nearly 20 years ago, when it held in Kyollo v. United States that such usage of these cameras violated the Fourth Amendment. This wasn’t the decision of the Court’s liberals either, it was Justice Antonin Scalia who wrote that our homes should be “held safe from prying government eyes.”
The NYPD statement says that it won’t engage in warrantless surveillance. And Chief of Department Terence Monahan has said, “Let me be clear: N.Y.P.D. drones will not be used for warrantless surveillance.” Instead, the drones are supposed to be for “monitoring giant crowds, investigating hazardous waste spills, handling hostage situations and reaching remote areas in crime scenes, among other tasks.”
New Yorkers are being asked to take the NYPD at its word, but many New Yorkers want a stronger guarantee. This is part of why advocates and activists are pushing for the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act (“POST Act”), a New York City Council bill that would require the NYPD to develop and publicize an “impact and use policy” for each piece of surveillance technology it purchases. (One of us, Vanessa, is a cosponsor of the legislation.) The bill, which was reintroduced earlier this year, has been gaining support throughout 2018, pending a hearing by the Council’s Public Safety committee.
The NYPD would have 180 days following enactment of the legislation to publicly post policies for existing tools. For future tools, they would be required to post public notice at least 90 days prior to deploying a new technology. Such steps would still allow the NYPD to buy the equipment it wants, but New Yorkers will better understand how their digital lives are being policed and how information that could be conducted incidentally to lawful surveillance is being protected. The POST Act also requires the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD to conduct an annual audit of NYPD compliance with the law.