The American Civil Liberties Union in Pittsburgh has concerns about how police plan to use new surveillance drones in the city, KDKA-TV reports.
What’s the story?
Pittsburgh’s Public Safety Department will use two drones this summer to help first responders by going and seeing where police and firefighters can’t.
The drones will be used during fires, search and rescue operations, or even active shooter situations. They have high definition cameras and thermal imaging, which brings up some privacy concerns for citizens.
“They could be flying a drone outside here while we’re talking and they’re looking in the window,” said ACLU Pittsburgh director Vic Walczak. “This is a significant expansion of the police department’s ability to invade people’s privacy.”
What does the department say?
The Public Safety Department has maintained that the drones won’t be used for law enforcement investigations.
“It’s much safer and much cheaper to use technology than put a police officer or firefighter in jeopardy,” said Wendell Hissrich, director of the Public Safety Department. “[Surveillance] is not the intent here. The intent is for a public safety response, whether it’s a hazardous materials situation, a SWAT situation where we might have an active shooter, or a fire situation. It’s not used for surveillance.”
Hissrich told KDKA that they are looking at policies in other law enforcement agencies to come up with a formal policy before deploying the drones.
Are other cities doing this?
Police have used drones in Mesa County, Colorado, originally to search for lost hikers. They also recreate three-dimensional crime scene models using aerial photos.
Some departments in Michigan and Illinois also use drones for crime scene management.
The Boston Police Department is also considering drone use for things such as crime scene measurement and patrol of large events like the Boston Marathon, but the city council has raised similar surveillance concerns.