Drones

NYPD Mulls Using Microphone-Equipped Drones

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JayShells

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: