The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has started testing a new drone technology designed to transmit audible messages to the public. These messages will serve to alert citizens about imminent weather threats or nearby emergencies, especially in times of extreme weather conditions.
On Sunday, following weeks of heavy rainfall and unprecedented flood warnings, New York's emergency notification system announced via Twitter that the police department would "conduct a remote public messaging capability test" that very day.
A police spokesperson confirmed later that these tests took place in Hook Creek Park in Queens. However, they did not disclose further details about the outcomes of these tests, which were conducted in anticipation of more rainfall predicted for the coming week.
An Unsettling Approach to Public Safety
While the use of drones for emergency messaging may seem like a leap towards a technologically advanced future, it also poses some potentially disconcerting issues. The sudden appearance of drones transmitting warnings across neighborhoods could easily alarm residents, particularly if they are unaware of the reason behind these airborne alerts.
Albert Fox Cahn, Executive Director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, voiced his concerns to Motherboard, saying, “This plan just isn’t going to fly. The city already has countless ways of reaching New Yorkers, and it would take thousands of drones to reach the whole city”.
Furthermore, Cahn expressed his apprehension over potential violations of citizens' privacy, a matter that has previously sparked controversy with law enforcement agencies' use of surveillance technology. “The drones are a terrible way to alert New Yorkers, but they are a great way to creep us out.
More alarmingly, the NYPD is once again violating the landmark Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, which requires public notice and comment before deploying new surveillance systems”. Rather than embracing this tech-savvy approach, Cahn advocates for improved city management and communication practices.
He asserted, “No gadget is going to be a substitute for effective city management and communication practices”.
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