The head of the New York City Police Department announced this week that the largest local law enforcement agency in the United States might soon rely on spy drones for conducting surveillance.
During an open conversation held Thursday between Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, the chief of police confirmed that New York’s boys in blue aren’t entirely opposed to acquiring an unmanned aerial vehicle for the sake of security.
“We’re looking into it," Kelly reportedly told an audience at the 92nd Street Y Thursday evening. “Anything that helps us.”
Jill Colvin, a producer for the website DNAinfo, says Kelly told his crowd that adding an UAV to their arsenal of surveillance tools could come in handy during future mass protests in the Big Apple. For starters, she reports, Kelly said cops could begin with using basic civilian models that are available for purchase online and in stores.
"You can go to Brookstone and buy a drone," Kelly told the crowd.
“The only thing we would do is maybe use the cheap $250 ones to take a look and see the size of the demonstration or something along those lines,” Colvin quotes him as saying.
The Federal Aviation Administration is still ironing out a rulebook for how UAVs will be used domestically in the years to come. Currently, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rely on the spy planes to secure the country’s borders. Dozens of smaller agencies across the country have applied to use drones too, though, a decision that has led to a large amount of concern from civil liberty advocates that say blanketing surveillance violates the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
"The law hasn't caught up with the technology," Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Oakland Tribune last year. "There are no rules of the road for how they operate these things."
Months earlier, Timm and another member of the EFF led a discussion about drones at the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference in New York. There they said the surveillance drones currently being manufactured have the capability to “zoom in and read a milk carton from 60,000 feet” in the air.
Just recently, the sheriff of Alameda County, California postponed a public discussion regarding his plans to procure a surveillance drone after news of the proposal spurred a grassroots opposition campaign. Down state in San Diego, the county Sheriff’s Office has come under fire from journalists who say law enforcement is withholding information about plans for an UAV. When the website MuckRack insisted they had proof that San Diego County was issued information about obtaining a drone, officials fired back "there is very little public benefit in the release of such records.”
Should New York City secure a drone of their own, there is little one could do that isn’t already possible in NYC. As of last year, the NYPD had access to around 2,000 surveillance cameras on just the island of Manhattan.