Privacy SOS

Report: NYPD considering armed drones

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

Here we go down the slippery slope: The NYPD is "seriously considering" procuring weaponized drones. Officials are making the usual argument (Terror!) to justify this ridiculous and dangerous idea. Specifically, terrorists might arm a drone with a machine gun or a bomb and inflict mass damage, the cops warn. The NYPD's response to this imaginary threat is to explore the militarization of New York City's skyline.

Is the threat real, though? Mary Cummings, a Duke professor and former Navy pilot, told Vice the NYPD's fear mongering is ridiculous.

There's no way in hell, Cummings said, that a mini-drone bought off Amazon–like the two that flew over the George Washington Bridge last month–could carry a 100-pound machine gun, let alone explosives. And anything bigger would be noticed from miles away. "Big drones show up on radar, so you would need small drones to pull this off," she explained. "But you can't really weaponize small drones."

Besides, she said, if we're buying this story, these are shit-poor jihadists we're talking about here; they don't have the Pentagon's massive budget backing their every move. "You would need a very sophisticated research program to mount a lethal weapon on a drone," Cummings continued. "And to just aim and fire alone, in any kind of controlled fashion, is very beyond the skills of a homegrown terrorist. If some terrorists can do that, then New York City has a lot bigger problems."

Cummings said that she was "afraid that the NYPD is using scare tactics" to make people nervous about drones.  She advocates for a thorough data management service, so we know where that drone camera footage is at all times, and for the State Legislature to ensure strict oversight.

Strict oversight is exactly what we need in every state. Here in Massachusetts lawmakers will likely reintroduce the Drone Privacy Act in the 2015-16 session, which starts in January. That bill as introduced in the last session would have imposed a blanket ban on the use of weaponized drones in the state, as well as provided a warrant requirement for police who want to deploy drones.

Drones' surveillance capabilities are scary enough. We really don't need to see the kind of thing portrayed in the video embedded above become reality in our cities. When it comes to weaponizing flying robots, we should just say no.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.