Police departments across the country are resorting to the use of drone surveillance to enforce social distancing in both public and private spaces during statewide shelter-in-place orders.
New footage shot by MSNBC shows police in Elizabeth, New Jersey using drones to look for people not social distancing in areas their patrol cars cannot access.
“The drones make it easier for people to see into certain areas where access by patrol car is more difficult,” Rehema Ellis, an NBC news correspondent said. “That includes tight spaces between buildings, behind schools, and in backyards.”
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage told MSNBC that cities need to get creative, and defended the intrusive tactic as potentially saving lives.
“If these drones save one life, it is clearly worth the activity and the information the drones are sending,” the mayor said.
Insane. Police are using drones to enforce social distancing by spying on Americans in their backyards. Police chief says invasion of privacy is worth it “if it saves one life.” At a certain point even the most obsequious bootlickers will have had enough
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) April 20, 2020
When a drone identifies a group of people collected together, such as individuals quarantined in their backyard, it says, “you should not be congregating in groups.” Consequences for refusing to abide by the drones in Elizabeth, NJ include a court summons or a $1,000 fine.
In Lewes, Delaware, the police department is using drones to fly over bike trails and beaches. According to a local news station, the Lewes PD Chief said the state may use the drones in the future to enforce out-of-state quarantine protocols. Anyone with an out-of-state license plate would be subject to the drone.
“We haven’t used it to do a car stop of an out-of-state vehicle yet but we may at some point try that. Actually stop the car with the real police officer and fly the drone up near the window to announce the out-of-state quarantine restrictions the governor has put in place,” said Lewes Police Chief Thomas Spell.
The Mayor of Stratford, Connecticut instituted a $100 fine for individuals caught avoiding social distancing guidelines. In other Connecticut cities, police or drones who catch groups in violation of social distancing guidelines use the opportunity to educate and warn citizens. In Stratford, the drones are used to punish citizens who disobey.
“We need to make it understood that we are very serious about enforcing the governor’s executive orders at our public facilities, and those who disobey will be cited,” said Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick.
A Chinese company known as Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) donated these types of drones to 43 law enforcement agencies in 23 states. Last May, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo warning that Chinese drones are possible security risks, ripe for the “potential use for terrorism, mass casualty incidents, interference with air traffic, as well as corporate espionage and invasions of privacy.”
After introducing new legislation against buying Chinese-made technology in 2019, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., warned about potential data risks. “The Communist Party of China now has in their law the availability to interfere and take information from virtually every Chinese company,” Warner told NPR. “As long as that exists, that provides a whole set of vulnerabilities I think American business has to consider on a going-forward basis.”
These drones have been distributed in the following 23 states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Drone invasions on private property clearly violate the 4th Amendment, and no new laws exist to govern the use of surveillance technology by police departments. Police departments across the nation are taking drone usage upon themselves to violate American liberties in the name of social distancing guidelines, even on private property.