In COVID Crisis, Some Police Using Chinese-Made Drones To Peek into Americans' Backyards -- And Give Orders


In a bizarre Orwellian twist, many Americans went from planning spring outings in March to having their government spy on them with Chinese drones in order to keep them away from one another by mid-April.

Life comes at you fast.

Police in Elizabeth, New Jersey, are now using donated Chinese drones that they say will all to help them enforce social distancing guiltiness.

Public officials say the drones are not taking photos or videos, but will be present in the community to “save lives” by warning people to not congregate in groups.

An MSNBC report posted to Twitter Monday by conservative commentator Matt Walsh showed how the machines make it easier for police to see into certain areas, including backyards, to monitor residents’ behavior.

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It’s all about “saving lives,” Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwege told MSNBC.

The report is a reminder of just how out of hand some of these social distancing guidelines have become.

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The country has gone from voting in the Super Tuesday primaries in March to educating one another about social distancing guidelines, to measuring body temperatures, to mechanized police units barking orders onto private property — all in less than two months.

The Elizabeth Police Department proudly demonstrated the drones in Facebook videos when they were first obtained earlier this month.

While the department says it has been using drones since 2018, it boasted that the newer models, DJI Mavic 2 UAVs, are equipped with loudspeakers, which will be used to hector people into behaving.

“These drones will be around the City with an automated message from the Mayor telling you to STOP gathering, disperse and go home,” the department wrote on Facebook.

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“Summonses HAVE AND WILL CONTINUE to be issued to those found in violation. Fines are up to $1000. You have been advised.”

The department issued a follow-up post about the drones, assuring commenters that the devices will not be used for any nefarious purposes.

“Regarding the comments on the drones, we are just trying to save lives, not trying to be big brother. If this plan saves one life, then it is worth it,” the department wrote.

“All the drones are doing is spreading an automated notice about keeping your social distance. There is no recording and no pictures being taken, it is a tool of encouragement to follow the rules.”

The Chinese-made drones have gone to dozens of agencies in 22 states.

While it can be conceded that the country’s unprecedented health crisis calls for innovative ways to think and police, drones hovering above Americans’ heads warning them to disperse or face punishment is creepy.

Would any of us have believed six weeks ago that by mid-April, American governments would be using drones built in China — with technology that was probably stolen from the United States — to tell Americans how to socially behave?

To make matters worse, there is a potential that DJI, which is a popular drone maker, could be sending data back to China —  the country of origin for both the drones and the coronavirus that has killed more than 170,000 worldwide and shuttered the American economy.

In 2017, The New York Times reported that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Los Angeles suspected DJI might be “providing US critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”

In October, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Interior Department had grounded its entire fleet of 800 DJI drones over national security concerns about the Chinese made craft.

But security or Chinese espionage isn’t the biggest problem here.

“If it saves one life” is an inherently flawed argument, and it goes against the principles on which America was founded.

By that logic, the government should regulate every form of American behavior, since all activities carry some inherent health risk.

If this is the new normal, it really makes you wonder if the coronavirus is the biggest issue currently facing the country.

It’s hard to imagine these drones ever being put back into their boxes and stored away on a department shelf, now that they’ve been deployed.

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.