A drone backlash

  • 29 April 2020
  • NormanL

Pandemics have a tendency to expose the more authoritarian impulses in our society, particularly when those impulses are wedded to the latest technology. Consider the case of Westport, Connecticut, which wanted to use drones to enforce social distancing orders:

...the Westport Police Department announced it had launched a pilot project in coordination with Canadian company Draganfly to send drones hovering around the city to make sure people in public spaces were maintaining six feet of social distance.

But these drones were much more intrusive than simply looking for crowds. Draganfly's drone-mounted biometric monitoring tools are even more sinister, dystopian, and potentially abusive. The drone is able to quickly measure whether people are six feet apart from each other, and Draganfly claims it can also measure heart rate, body temperature, and other vital signs, which suggests that a drone might be able to spot potential infections from above.

Weird, creepy, and definitely intrusive. Residents were not happy and pushed back. A couple of days later, the program was scrapped:

"In our good faith effort to get ahead of the virus and potential need to manage and safely monitor crowds and social distancing in this environment, our announcement was perhaps misinterpreted, not well-received, and posed many additional questions," First Selectman Jim Marpe said. "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."

This is good news. But it's also not the first and certainly not the last time we will see governments use intrusive technology "for our own good."