NYPD Mulls Using Microphone-Equipped Drones



Do you ever get that creepy feeling like you're being watched in public? That your conversations are being bugged and transmitted to the shadowy headquarters of an organization just looking for ways it can catch you? Well, good news: The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is thinking about justifying your paranoia.

At a city council meeting on Tuesday the boys in blue discussed the possibility of buying some drones. The New York Daily News reports:

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the unmanned machines equipped with cameras and tiny microphones could help spy on crime hotspots—like housing projects, where shootings are up about 32% this year.

"Myself, I'm supportive of the concept of drones, not only for police but for public safety in general," Bratton said Tuesday. "It's something that we actively keep looking at and stay aware of."

Bratton, speaking in front of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said the drones could also help the FDNY more quickly determine the extent of a fire.

John Miller, the NYPD's head of intelligence, said cops have been studying flying drones. They're looking at "what's on the market, what's available."

The NYPD doesn't have plans in motion yet, but there's good reason to be concerned about adding another piece of technology to any police department's arsenal. Other surveillance enablers, like GPS trackers, have been used around the country to trample on people's reasonable expectations of privacy and, in the case of license plate readers, have put innocent lives at risk when has equipment malfunctioned. 

Regarding drones in particular, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has warned that "privacy law has not kept up with the rapid pace of drone technology, and police may believe they can use drones to spy on citizens with no warrant or legal process whatsoever." The American Civil Liberties Union adds that agencies should be restricted from indefinitely holding data gathered by drones.

Even if you buy into the awful argument that you've got nothing to worry about if you've got nothing to hide, is the NYPD really an organization that should be trusted with constantly recording people's movements and conversations? The department known for infiltrating political dissident groups, smashing kids through storefront windows, drunkenly shooting people, and even flouting international law?

Watch Reason TV's coverage of police drones and the privacy concerns they raise:

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  1. Awesome. Just wait until the technology evolves to where they can shove a broom handle up your ass remotely.

    1. I have a hard time coming up with a reason they shouldn’t be able to record in a public place, but damn that’s creepy.

      Plus they wouldn’t care about staying in public.

      1. Yeah. My prediction: if this goes through, at least one drone is crashed because they were Peeping at some hot woman undressing.

        1. +1 Blue Thunder

        2. It’s not a prediction, it’s a guarantee.

        3. Do not be alarmed. Continue swimming naked. Oh, come on! Continue! Come on! Aw… all right, Lou, open fire.

        4. I guaranteed you we are 90% of the way there if that hasn’t happened already and been shushed up. I’m trying to find a confirmation, but the ACLU reports, “New York City police in a helicopter supposedly monitoring the crowds at the 2004 Republican Convention trained an infrared video camera on an amorous couple enjoying the nighttime ‘privacy’ of their rooftop balcony.”
          Oh, and I found this bit from the NYCLU: “Sgt. John Marisotto, a 12-year NYPD veteran and member of the VIPER squad, claimed that Viper Units have used their cameras to spy on and record tenants having sex in city housing projects. And in 1998, Brooklyn-based NYPD officers were caught using their cameras’ zoom lenses to leer at women on the street.”

          So yeah, I give the cops about ten seconds before they start doing that kind of thing with drones.

      2. Because they’re the government.

        Government is a special organization that doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt like a private company would.

        Government wants to do something, it needs to work extra hard to justify why it *needs* to do that, unlike private actors.

      3. Because it’s not the type of police we want to have. Becavuse it’s not appropriate activity for police to be collecting data/video on so many people. Because they can’t be trusted not to abuse the information. Because it’s ridiculously expensive to buy/operate drones, and people’s money will benefit them far greater in their own pockets, or at least (realistically) in a different or more-benign part of the police or gobvernment.

        Don’t you think the money spent on drones would be better spent on, oh I don’t know , diversity training for officers, constitutional adherence training, more capacity for DNA testing (clearing wrongfully imprisoned people), etc.

        And because the reason you answered your own question with.

        1. Nothing you said is a reason in and of itself why it shouldn’t be allowed. Just reasons why we shouldn’t choose to do it.

          1. Those are reasons why the people of New York should not let it be done in their city.

            Look, the people who live in a certain area are responsible for their own police departments, and for what they give the okay on. If they want their police to have drones, that’s unfortunately, but I won’t FORCE them to do what I think while I sit here unaffected in another state. If I lived there, I’d move away.

            You’re right, I don’t agree with banning people from making mistakes – isn’t forcing people to make the “Right” decision what we complain about with government and progressives all the time?? I’m holding myself to my own standard, even if it results in an outcome I don’t approve of.

  2. So when does the legislature start outlawing countermeasures?

    1. They’ve already been doing that – see the laws that make wearing masks illegal.

      1. I’m out of touch. Have laws been passed prohibiting masks, or are police just taking the matter into their own hands?

        1. I believe NYC actually has a law prohibiting masks.

          1. http://gothamist.com/2011/09/1…..st_m.php#.

            As the protests against corporate greed and the “occupation” of the Financial District continues for a third day, at least seven demonstrators have been arrested. According to Bloomberg News, two were arrested for trying to enter a Bank of America building, another for jumping a police barrier, and four more for “wearing masks in violation of a law that bars two or more participants from doing so.” This law dates back to 1845 in the Anti-Rent era?a time when a wealthy few owned feudal-esque leases to maintain control of tenants. Absolutely nothing like today!

            The anti-mask statute was passed as a response to the actions of rabble-rousing renters, seeking to prevent “distress sales” of their property by their landlords, dressing up as “Indians” to protect their rights and property. N.Y. Penal Law ??240.35(4) cropped back up in the news 11 years ago, when the KKK petitioned to wear masks protesting in the city. They were prohibited from doing so because of the statute, and sued. The USDC for the Southern District of New York sided with the KKK, and ruled the law unconstitutional, but not before protesters were arrested in 2002 for the same offense.

            Looks like it may be limited to protests. So going masked to avoid recording by drones hasn’t been outlawed yet.

            1. Well, not illegal as long as you don’t want to freely associate with others.

        2. Yes, I believe NY has laws about obscuring your face in certain situations, but I haven’t the time to go find links for you.

          Go rob a bank wearing a handkerchief on your face, and see what charges they throw at you. That’s a simple way to find out.

          1. I think a better example are places with redlight cameras, since they aren’t going to throw felony charges at you for the actual crime.

            1. Well that’s no fun now is it, Auric.

          2. So, wearing a ski mask in the middle of snow storm is probably cause for search and arrest.

        3. So, I am gonna imagine that lots of anti-mask laws were written in response to the KKK. The only question is how broadly they cover day-to-day activities.

          1. That’s true, but the anti-mask law with the most effect on our day-to-day life is the Keene Act of 1977, which in itself was a response to a massive police strike in NYC and elsewhere.

        4. http://www.anapsid.org/cnd/mcs/maskcodes.html

          A summary of the laws of the 50 states regarding masks, hoods, robs, etc for the purpose of concealment.

    2. I was just thinking about this yesterday. If someone flies a drone way up over my backyard, am I allowed to at least blind it with a laser? I mean, I assume that being within city limits precludes shooting at it.

  3. . . . help the FDNY more quickly determine the extent of a fire.

    Yeah, because the FDNY so often faces multi-structure fires.

    These people will throw out the flimsiest justification and expect you to take it.

    1. What is so hard about, I don’t know, LOOKING UP? These are firemen, not dogs.

      1. And you know what? I’m OK with the FDNY having a few drones.

        Not so OK with the NYPD having them. Incentives matter.

    2. Actually, if we could trust NYC to limit the use, fire-spotting is a legitimate reason for drones. Get a good fire going in high wind, with sparks scattering, and an overhead view would be invaluable.

      I can also see drones for wilderness fires, search and rescue, etc.

      But I wouldn’t trust NYC.

  4. At a city council meeting on Tuesday the boys in blue discussed the possibility of buying some drones.

    And then they discussed adhering to their legal responsibilities to the federal and state constitution!…Nah, just fuckin’ with ya.

  5. It all depends on the use, doesn’t it? I mean if it’s already legal for them to do something with a manned helicopter, the fact it’s a smaller unmanned drone doing the same task doesn’t worry me all that much.

    Now, the set of things they’re allowed to do with a helicopter is probably excessive to start with, but maybe focus should be on fixing that?

  6. The article and video are about small 4-rotor drones with cameras and microphones. You have recklessly misrepresented the topic by posting to FB a photo of a larger, winged drone with a missile pursuing a fleeing family. NYPD may be responsible for the original image, but you are at fault for using it. May I have the courtesy of a reply?

    1. Fuck you.

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