Privacy SOS

Massachusetts law enforcement agencies prepare to buy surveillance drones, but we aren’t ready

Please note that by playing this clip YouTube and Google will place a long term cookie on your computer.

At least two law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts, including the state police, are actively engaged in the procurement process to obtain surveillance drones, according to news reports. Police in Chicopee have twice borrowed a drone from Jeremy Procon, the owner of a local towing company. MassLive reports:

Twice in recent months, the Police Department has called Procon and asked for him to help with searches. The first time was a search of the Connecticut River to find a stolen car that had been submerged near the Medina Street boat ramp. The second time was last week when police were searching for a missing 91-year-old man.

A Chicopee city council member is trying to get his colleagues to agree to approve a $6,000 purchase for the police department to acquire its own drone, to be shared with the fire department and public works on an as needed basis.

The Massachusetts state police are also hunting for a surveillance drone. According to a request for proposals dug up by the independent newspaper The Dig, “authorities are in the market for one heck of a sophisticated micromachine, one decked with real-time GPS mapping capabilities, a 30x digital video zoom, and seemingly every frill imaginable save for fuzzy dice to hang from the propellers.”

Meanwhile, there is no law on the books in Massachusetts to regulate how police can use surveillance drones. There’s an easy fix: the Drone Privacy Act, which currently sits before the state legislature. That bill would require that cops get a warrant before using a drone to spy on someone. It’s a commonsense piece of legislation. Without it, the people of Massachusetts can’t be sure that police won’t misuse the technology to spy on people suspected of no crime. And it looks like that day is fast approaching.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.