After Outcry, Connecticut Town Scraps COVID-19 Drone Surveillance Program

After Outcry, Connecticut Town Scraps COVID-19 Drone Surveillance Program

Following public outcry over privacy concerns, the town of Westport, Connecticut, has abandoned plans to use drones to monitor residents for signs of the COVID-19 virus.

The town announced plans to partner with drone maker Draganfly and use its drones equipped with biometric tech including thermal cameras to measure metrics such as temperature, heart and respiratory rates, as well as to monitor for other symptoms of COVID-19 such as sneezing and coughing.

“We heard and respect your concerns, and are therefore stepping back and re-considering the full impact of the technology and its use in law enforcement protocol,” Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Prior to the public backlash over the program, Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell noted that his company was “pleasantly overwhelmed” by the interest shown nationwide from various law enforcement and public safety agencies to use his company’s technology to conduct biometric surveillance.

It should be noted, however, that Chell had in fact promised that his drones would not be identifying people or collecting “individualized data”, but instead anonymizing it before delivering it to public safety officials.

This is the latest instance of municipal opposition to the use of biometric technology for surveillance or to gather biometric data from individuals without their consent.

In Illinois, the Biometric Information Privacy Act is a piece of legislation that prevents the capturing and storage of an individual’s biometric data without their knowledge and consent, and a number of lawsuits have been filed in the past year against a variety of defendants.

An explosive New York Times front page story in January, revealing that startup Clearview AI‘s database of 3 billion images scraped from the internet is sold as a service along with its facial recognition system to law enforcement agencies around the world, has perhaps heightened public interest in the issue of biometric surveillance systems.

Though Westport Police Chief Fotis Koskinas confirmed the program was now scrapped, he did leave the door open to potentially explore the use of drones in the future under appropriate scenarios, The Washington Times reports.

“Although I see the greater potential of this technology, I will always be responsive and respectful of the concerns of our citizens in every decision that I make,” Mr. Koskinas said. “In our steadfast commitment to public service, we remain honored to have been given an opportunity to assist in a pilot program which could someday prove to be a valuable lifesaving tool,” he added.

Source: The Washington Times