Though most Americans associate drones with hunting and killing terrorists overseas, President Obama signed legislation in February 2012 opening US airspace for government and commercial drones. Predicted to be a $6 billion industry by 2016, drones would be used for a variety of purposes, from border surveillance to real estate advertising to crop dusting.
And of course, police monitoring.
Though the mayor provided no specific dates or details regarding the use of surveillance drones in New York, he said he viewed it as an extension of the thousands of security cameras currently monitoring New Yorkers’ every move.
“It’s scary but what’s the difference whether the drone is up in the air or on the building,” he said. “Intellectually, I have trouble making a distinction.”
The NYCLU estimates there are 2,400 surveillance cameras in Manhattan alone, which combined with the city’s new facial recognition unit, can scan faces in surveillance images or social media and match them against mugshots to hone in on suspects in criminal investigations.
Depending on the type of technology used, surveillance drones can be equipped with facial recognition software to identify individuals and capture details as minute as license plate numbers and the goings-on in private residences. (Whether they would be legally permitted to do so, of course, is a different matter.)
Surveillance recorded by a city police department would be considered government record and could be used for crowd control, surveillance, law enforcement, and security.
Undoubtedly, privacy laws will need to evolve to address the potential concerns created by drones’ new surveillance capabilities, the NYCLU’s Ms. Lieberman said.