Invasion of privacy? Debate wages over drone use by police in New York

CeFaan Kim Image
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Invasion of privacy? Debate wages over drone use by NY police
New York State Assemblymember Ron Kim is the co-sponsor of a bill in Albany that would place restrictions on law enforcement's use of drones. CeFaan Kim has the story.

UNION SQUARE, Manhattan (WABC) -- The debate over drones and privacy is now front and center in the state of New York as lawmakers in Albany inch closer to limiting the use of drones by authorities.

It is a controversial and charged issue, especially with more police departments using drones than ever before.

When a riot broke out in Union Square several weeks ago, several drones went up in the middle of the chaos and played a big role in restoring order. They were also used after a parking garage collapsed in Lower Manhattan and have been prominently used for shark patrol.

But critics say protecting the public shouldn't come at the cost of protecting people's privacy. Some are concerned the data captured by law enforcement drones could lead to an invasion of privacy.

"When there's a natural crisis or catastrophe or an emergency, we should be able to deploy the latest technology to pinpoint what that danger to the community and eliminate it," said New York State Assemblymember Ron Kim. "But at a concert or community event when there's no threat, when we are interacting with each other and we expect our privacy to be guarded, no third parties should have access to our conversations, our images, our families or friends."

Kim is the co-sponsor of a bill in Albany that would place restrictions on law enforcement's use of drones.

Critics are concerned that a drone's surveillance ability is limitless.

Former NYPD Chief of Detectives and ABC News contributor Robert Boyce says that not using drones would be the real threat to public safety.

"We need to embrace this technology," Boyce said.

Kim says his bill would require police to obtain a warrant in certain situations.

"If people are peacefully protesting and there is no viable threat, people still have first amendment rights," he said.

Chief Boyce says there are rules in place requiring a warrant before monitoring certain groups or activities.

"We already have the Handschu agreement where we're bound to comply with it," Boyce said. "To understand that this is what, you have to go through a series before we monitor any political activity. That's already in place."

Through a spokesperson the Nassau County police department says it, "utilizes its 33 drones for a variety of investigative purposes such as the reconstruction of crime scenes, monitoring sea life near our shores, and access to situations where their use provides an increased measure of safety for our officers and the public."

The New York State Police offered a similar response.

"The unmanned aircraft provide a significant costs savings when compared to our manned aircraft, offer reduced response times, and can be used in dangerous situations and environments, including natural disasters, keeping troopers out of harm's way," New York State Police said in a statement. "We have used them to locate missing persons, to search for evidence and photograph crime scenes, and enhance security at large public events."

Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Adams was learning about AI and security cameras on a teleconference from Israel, where he's visiting technology companies.

"Some countries, outside of Israel and others, use technology that just will not fit in America's belief on privacy," he said. "We are not going to allow that to happen. We are going to stay within the barriers of our laws and the guardrails of our laws."

The bill's sponsors say the other concern is third party private entities that can profit from public information being out in the open.

Law enforcement experts say protocols like executive access and sign offs address those concerns.


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