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Brooklyn Defender Services backs bill that would stop police from using drones to surveil protesters

July 28, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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During anti-police violence protests that have gone on in Brooklyn and New York City since the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police officers, some protesters have claimed to have spotted drones used by the NYPD for surveillance.

The issue has caught the attention of State Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Ron Kim, both from Queens, who sponsored legislation to restrict the NYPD’s use of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Last year, we sat down and worked on legislation for the State Senate (S6435B/A9931) that would effectively ban law enforcement use of drones in public, as well as severely restrict any use of government drones without a warrant from a judge,” Ramos and advocate Dennis Flores wrote in an op-ed. “The bill applies to both government agencies and private government contractors. The legislation would ban facial recognition via drones altogether.

“To be clear, we believe the police should not have drones at all. The bill would begin to move us away from drones, countering the nationwide trend.”

The bill is quickly attracting the support of local legal service providers, including the New York Civil Liberties Union and Brooklyn Defender Services.

The problem, according to the ACLU, is lack of almost any oversight at all into how the NYPD and police departments in general can use aerial surveillance. They say that lack of oversight will lead to misuse and abuse of the technology.

“[The bill] would prohibit drone surveillance of events and activities protected by the First Amendment, require a search warrant for use of a drone in police investigations, prohibit drones from using facial recognition software, weapons or crowd control devices, set rules for the public accessibility, retention and deletion of drone-collected data, and subject private drone operating companies to the same rules as law enforcement,” read a recent memo published by the NYCLU.

On Twitter, Brooklyn Defender Services has drawn attention to the issue that it refers to as an “ominous threat to free expression” and called for the end of police drones using the hashtag #NoDroneSpyingNY.

“Surveillance that reveals protesters’ identities, movements and associations is an ominous threat to free expression,” said one BDS Tweet. “Pass S.6435/A.9931 and stop the invasive use of police drones now.”

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