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New Drones Will Offer High-Tech Assistance To Police, But Raise Surveillance Concerns

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Drones will be on duty in Pittsburgh this summer.

The city's Public Safety Department is getting two high-tech drones to assist police and firefighters.

It's state-of-the-art technology that can go where police, firefighters and paramedics can't without the risk to life and limb.

"It's much safer and much cheaper to use technology than put a police officer or firefighter in jeopardy," Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said.

The two public safety drones are set to arrive in the next two weeks and will become their eye in the sky at fires, search and rescue operations or active shooter situations. To that end, each is tricked out with three high-def, tilt-and-zoom cameras as well as thermal imaging -- and that makes some people nervous.

While the department says drones won't be used as an investigation tool, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pittsburgh, Vic Walczak, has concerns about their surveillance capabilities, especially by law enforcement.

"They could be flying a drone outside here while we're talking and they're looking in the window," Walczak said. "This is a significant expansion of the police department's ability to invade people's privacy."

"That's not the intent here. The intent is for a public safety response, whether it's a hazardous materials situation, a SWAT situation where we might have an active shooter or a fire situation," Hissrich said. "It's not used for surveillance."

But Walczak says there needs to be more than public assurances.

"So if you're only going to use it in some kind of emergency rescue situation or SWAT situation, put that in writing, and make sure police officers know that," he said.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "Do you have guidelines? Are there strict guidelines on the usage of drones?"
Hissrich: "We are looking at other police departments, other law enforcement agencies to get their policies, and we will draft a policy prior to the use of the drones."

The public safety director says the drones will be tightly regulated when they begin to deploy them this summer, but meanwhile, the ACLU says it will be keeping a watchful eye on the drones.

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