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Will drones with facial recognition be used by police to monitor American protestors?




The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are warning Americans of the implications of a new bill in Illinois that would allow police to use drones to monitor protestors in the city.

What exactly would this bill allow?

Under the legislation, drones (controlled by police) will be permitted to fly above protestors taking photos and recording video and audio. Officials have stated that part of the reason for drafting this bill is that it will ensure the safety of those attending large-scale events in Chicago.

The Drive reports that the bill has already passed the House and the Senate and all that stands between it becoming law are final votes in both chambers. Chicago’s Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel is said to be one of the main driving forces behind this legislation.

What are those opposed to the bill saying?

The ACLU writes on their website:

“U.S. law enforcement is greatly expanding its use of surveillance drones…Deployed without proper regulation, drones equipped with facial recognition software, infrared technology, and speakers capable of monitoring personal conversations would cause unprecedented invasions of our privacy rights.”

Although the drones being mooted for deployment in Chicago may not all have facial recognition software – this type of equipment has become ubiquitous in recent years. Technically at the present moment people with smartphones, surveillance cameras and journalists all have the capability of snapping a photo of a protestor’s mag during a large demonstration, a drone makes it much easier to identify an individual in a crowd.

One of the main points of opposition to this move is that it may have a chilling effect on protestors. The Drive quoted Karen Sheley, director of the ACLU Police Practices Project:

“If this bill is passed, as drafted, during the next large-scale political rally, drones could identify and list people protesting the Trump administration.”

“The sight of drones overhead, collecting information, may deter people from protesting in a time when so many want to exercise their First Amendment rights…This is too much unchecked power to give to the police—in Chicago or anywhere.”

The move by Chicago authorities is but the latest example of police departments around the United States looking to use drones as part of their police work. We recently wrote an article detail the ongoing debate being had by police about the extent to which drones should be employed. Last year in August, the LAPD was granted a one-year trial to use UAVs, amid significant protests and controversy. Seattle police also considered the option but backed off after significant public revolt.

Drones can clearly be a great tool for helping out in emergencies, particularly to give authorities a better vantage point to see what’s going on so they can. There are, however, significant portions of the public who feel uneasy about the idea of more state surveillance (particularly in the era of Trump).

Stop LAPD Spying Coalition protest outside of LAPD headquarters last year. Credit: David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

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