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The NYPD, a police force with a history of illegal surveillance, now has a fleet of drones

What could go wrong?

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The New York City Police Department announced Tuesday that it will deploy a fleet containing fourteen drones.

The drones, as a part of the Technical Assistance Response Unit, will be used during search rescue operations, monitoring traffic and pedestrians during events that draw crowds, for HAZMAT incidents, in hostage situations, and “other emergency situations.” The fleet cost about $480,000 according to the New York Times.

“Drone technology will give our cops and their incident commanders an opportunity to see what they’re getting into before they go into harm’s way. For this reason alone, it would be negligent for us not to use this technology,” Chief of Department Terence A. Monahan said at a press conference.

Twenty-nine officers will be trained to operate the unmanned aerial vehicles, which the force swore in a statement will be used in good faith.

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“Let me be clear: N.Y.P.D. drones will not be used for warrantless surveillance,” said Monahan. The department also stressed that the drones will not be used with or as a weapon.

Law-enforcement agencies across the country have been deploying drones, much to the chagrin of their law-abiding citizens. The main concerns are about privacy and fair use of the drones.

The NYPD has a history of coming under fire for illegally surveilling citizens.

Back in 2013 the NYPD came under fire after it was revealed that they had been labeling mosques as terrorism organizations — which allowed the force to spy on imams, use informants, and record sermon all without an initial event or reason warranting the concern.

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In 2017, The Verge reported that between 2011 and 2016 the police also sent camera teams to record “hundreds of Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street protests.” The NYPD told the publication that it was unable to locate any legal reviews or authorizations for the surveillance, as is required under the department’s own guidelines.

After seeing an early draft of the department’s drone plan the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) expressed serious concern. “The NYPD did make some changes, but we continue to believe the NYPD’s drone program poses a serious threat to New Yorkers’ privacy,” the organization said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The NYPD’s drone policy places no meaningful restrictions on police deployment of drones in New York City and opens the door to the police department building a permanent archive of drone footage of political activity and intimate private behavior visible only from the sky,” the NYCLU’s statement went on to conclude.