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Police to use drones to surveil New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve

The move marks a "new frontier for both public safety and abuses of power," the New York Civil Liberties Union warns.

NEW YORK, USA - DECEMBER 31: A watchtower is seen counting down to new year ahead of the new year celebrations at Times Square in Manhattan borough of New York City, United States on December 31, 2017.


 (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - DECEMBER 31: A watchtower is seen counting down to new year ahead of the new year celebrations at Times Square in Manhattan borough of New York City, United States on December 31, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The New York Police Department is ratcheting up their surveillance capabilities by deploying a fleet of drones to watch over millions of New Year’s Eve revelers in Times Square, drawing the concerns of civil rights groups and privacy advocates.

The so-called “counter-drone technology” is intended to give the NYPD the ability to quickly survey the crowd and home in on particular trouble spots, the department’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said during a press briefing on Friday.

Officials with the department said there is no known credible threat ahead of Monday night’s nationally broadcasted event, Gizmodo reported.

The department’s use of drone technology has drawn criticism from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which says poses a “serious threat to the privacy of New Yorkers” and called it a “new frontier for both public safety and abuses of power.”

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“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,” said NYCLU’s associate legal director Christopher Dunn in a December 3 statement.
“We believe the new policy falls far short of what is needed to balance the department’s legitimate law-enforcement needs against the privacy interests of New Yorkers,” he added.
The NYPD already uses an array of “anti-terrorism tactics” during the famous New Year’s celebration to secure the area from potential attacks including deploying thousands of officers, partnering with hotels, and utilizing police helicopters and airplanes, Bloomberg reported.

The department will also utilize 1,225 portable and stationary cameras during the event, according to Gizmodo. At least one of the drones will be tethered to the top of a building to prevent a potential attack, according to the New York Post. The precaution was also put in place to protect the crowd in case of a malfunction, NBC News reported