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The sudden news of the New York Police Department planning to utilize drones to enact surveillance on Labor Day parties this weekend has sparked public concern.

At a press conference held on Thursday (August 31st) by the NYPD, it was announced that they would use surveillance drones during the course of the J’ouvert/Labor Day weekend. We’re going to be utilizing technology, we’re going to be utilizing drones for this J’ouvert weekend. The drones are going to be responding to non-priority calls and priority calls,” said NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry. He followed up by stating that the drones would be active beginning on Thursday evening and cease operation on Monday morning. Daughtry also stated that the drones would monitor large outdoor gatherings and backyard parties. “If a caller states there is a large crowd, a large party in the backyard, we’re going to be utilizing our assets to go up, go check on the party,” he said. 

The news comes hours before the largest public celebration in New York City by its Black immigrant community from the West Indies. J’ouvert is the annual festival held before the Labor Day parade on Monday that honors those lost during enslavement and celebrates the traditions of the island nations. The move has caused observers and community advocates to voice their concerns. “It’s a troubling announcement and it flies in the face of the POST Act,” said Daniel Schwarz, a privacy and technology analyst with the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Deploying drones in this way is a sci-fi-inspired scenario.”

Observers note that the city’s POST Act requires the department to give 90 days’ notice before using such technology so citizens can weigh in, but it seems as if the department has been taking advantage of a loophole in the act where there is a review if new technology is an “enhancement” to existing policy. The NYPD has spoken about using drones before since 2018, with them being used 124 times this year, recently in the Union Square fracas caused by a botched Kai Cenat giveaway.

Mayor Eric Adams has been a highly vocal backer of using drones, particularly after his recent trip to Israel. “This is ripe for abuse,” surveillance lawyer Albert Fox Cahn said. “The mayor keeps doing this. Whenever there’s something that might generate a bad headline, he looks for some technological gimmick that can fix it.”