Proposed Bill Allows Florida Police to Use Drones to Surveil Large Crowds. What Could Go Wrong?

Illustration for article titled Proposed Bill Allows Florida Police to Use Drones to Surveil Large Crowds. What Could Go Wrong?
Photo: Christopher Furlong (Getty Images)

Florida wants to be Skynet so bad.

More than 70 law enforcement agencies in the state either use drones or will be soon. Right now, there are limits on what departments are allowed to do with these police-harassment-from-above machines, but a new bill would expand how cops are allowed to use drones, which includes allowing them to be used to surveil protests. Needless to say, there’s a lot of disagreement as to whether the newly proposed legislation should be allowed to take effect.

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WTSP 10 reports that Florida’s current police drone law states that a “law enforcement agency may not use a drone to gather evidence or other information” unless it’s to prevent a terrorist attack, find a missing person, prevent imminent danger to life, prevent a suspect from escaping or if officers have a search warrant, among other exceptions. One would think that all of that would sufficiently cover all of the reasons why Florida law enforcement needs Total Recall technology, but some legal officials don’t think so.

Here’s how the new bill would expand drone use as reported by WTSP:

  • Getting “an aerial perspective of a crowd of 50 people or more”
  • “Traffic management” but not traffic tickets
  • Collecting evidence at a crime scene or traffic crash scene
  • Checking out natural disaster damage
  • Fire department use

Drone use for fire departments and to check natural disaster damage isn’t likely to raise much of a fuss, but that’s only because drones aren’t being used to spy on human beings—the rest of this shit is, at best, weird. It’s especially disturbing that drones would be used to surveil crowds of 50 people or more, because you know that’s only about one thing: Protests.

Mind you, we’re not likely talking about MAGA-fied protests with violent insurrection potential. After all, this is Florida, the state of gators, deranged wypipo, “Stand Your Ground” law, and for whatever reason, Donald Trump’s “Office of the Former President.” (But seriously, why though?) Still, anyone who finds government monitoring like this troubling should find this bill disturbing.

“This is a slippery slope, not just for BLM activists, but for all Americans,” Donna Davis, co-founder of Tampa’s Black Lives Matter chapter told WTSP 10. She also compared it to the FBI’s COINTELPRO program and said that it’s a “rehashing of old legal abuse and ways to infringe upon the civil liberties of citizens who are believed to be dissidents or disrupters in a society.”

State Sen. Tom Wright, the person who introduced the bill, doesn’t see it that way and offered the creepiest explanation a Florida man could think of on why the drone expansions are no big deal.

“Let me ask you this question so I think it’ll make it a little bit easier for you: If we know that there’s going to be a large crowd of people and it’s going to be on the beach, so we’ll just put an officer up there in the top floor, the penthouse of the hotel with his high-powered binoculars. Does he need a warrant? No,” Wright said.

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Wright’s analogy didn’t sound like an endorsement for drone use as much as it sounded like a reason not to visit Florida beaches. What the fuck is Officer Peeping Tom doing in a hotel with his Creep-O 3000 binoculars in the first place?

Dave Maass, the senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that he’s concerned “when a legislature gives the ability to surveil people who are engaged in First Amendment activities—so, if they’re protesting, having a march, maybe they’re even having a prayer ceremony outside, or they’re having a pride festival.”

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Jake Laperruque, senior counsel for the Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight, expressed similar concerns.

“Drones could be used to identify protesters, or track their movements,” Laperruque said. “It seems wild that the bill acknowledges that letting drones monitor cars to give out speeding tickets is too creepy and overbearing as a form of high tech surveillance but would give the green light to drones monitoring protesters.”

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Meanwhile, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood pointed out an interesting upside: It will prevent police brutality on peaceful protesters.

“You can identify who the insurgents are in those crowds, as opposed to, when you’re deploying mace and other chemicals, you’re macing or tear-gassing innocent people who are there practicing their First Amendment rights,” Chitwood said. “You’re not surveilling the citizens that are there practicing their First Amendment rights.”

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A few things about this take: First, it’s bold of Chitwood to assume cops will stop using “mace and other chemicals” because they have drones to use. Second, he seems to be acknowledging that police are using mace and shit indiscriminately during civil unrest. Lastly, he doesn’t think everyone is being surveilled—only the bad guys.

Nah bruh, this is some Minority Report shit, and y’all know it.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

DISCUSSION

skeffles
skeffles

That’s it, Imma going to go rev the car engine for half an hour. See if I can’t get global warming to swallow it sooner. I am so sick of Florida. I wish it would take Texas and just secede again.