During the Trump administration, we have seen police lying about public surveillance become an art form. A perfect example of this is police drone acquisitions and their justification for using them.

Last year, when I wrote an article exposing how the Memorial Villages Police Department in Texas misrepresented how they planned to use drones and later used them to identify suspicious people I thought to myself; this is probably just the beginning.

That same story is being repeated, except this time it is taking place in Georgia.

When the Brookhaven PD acquired drones last year they also promised the public that they would be used exclusively for search and rescue operations, crowd control at festivals and events, and to assist with criminal investigations.”

But a portent of what was to come was revealed in The Daily Leader’s article titled “Police Drone Usage Takes Off.”

“Sgt. Jonathan Alford, who is currently the only officer with a license to fly a drone, said the department could not ‘divulge any information regarding the Brookhaven Police Department’s UAS Program, its implementation, or operations of the UAS.’

“Dennis Lott, who runs Hinds Community College’s Unmanned Aerial Systems program, said all law enforcement agencies will use drone aircraft in daily operations in the near future.”

The article went on to quote the usual privacy concerns about police drones but it also left the public with an interesting admission from Sgt. Alford, who said, “the drone can be used to find someone suspected of a crime.”

That comment should have been a red flag to Georgia residents, revealing police departments had no intention of keeping their word to only use drones in dire emergencies.

Which brings us to this year. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that the Brookhaven PD has no problems using COVID-19 as an excuse to justify using drones to respond to 911 calls.

“Not every 911 call will be answered with a drone, but Brookhaven police said the project will give its officers more flexibility, availability and information, while limiting in-person contact amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

Brookhaven PD will become only the second city in America to use drones to respond to 911 calls.

“Brookhaven police Lt. Abrem Ayana who pitched the project to the City Council, said Brookhaven will become the first city outside of California to adopt this program — the first was the Chula Vista Police Department in 2018.”

There is no justification for police departments to use drones to respond to 911 calls. Period.

Whether it is Amazon drones flying down our streets or police drones flying over our homes, the privacy implications remain the same.

“What will happen to Americans’ privacy once private companies begin flying down our streets? Drones will fly over people’s yards while voyeuristic pilots invade everyone’s privacy. Was someone taking a shower or getting undressed in their window? Don’t worry, Amazon will have a real-time video of it. Was someone sunbathing in their backyard? Amazon will know.”

This video illustrates why it doesn’t matter who uses drones on public streets; everyone’s privacy will be affected by their usage.

If you are still unsure about how police drones could threaten you and your family’s privacy, I leave you with this disturbing news:

North Dakota is working with L3Harris Technologies and Thales to put their surveillance software on drones. A recent Grand Forks Herald article called their statewide drone network a game-changer.

“Aviation infrastructure companies L3Harris Technologies and Thales USA have been selected to build out key site infrastructure in Williams and McKenzie counties, and Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies Company, will provide systems engineering and integrations services, as well.”

If you are unfamiliar with these companies, L3Harris is the go-to-replacement for police cell site interception. When cities and towns ban police departments from using Stingray technology they just switch companies to avoid breaking the law. Thales is well-known in the United Kingdom for its facial recognition technology.

Drones flying down our streets and over our homes equipped with IMSI catchers and facial recognition technology means no one will be safe from Big Brother’s prying eyes.

Last week’s story about law enforcement using a secret facial recognition program called the “National Capital Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System” to identify activists and protesters shows us why everyone should be worried about putting this technology on police drones.

The future of our privacy is being written by self-serving corporate interests and police departments, who are not concerned about our privacy.

This article was originally published at Mass PrivateI.


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