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'We are trying to save lives, not be Big Brother': US police are facing backlash for using 'dystopian' drones to ask people to stay home

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  • Some US police departments have started using drones to tell people to social distance and distribute coronavirus updates.
  • In New Jersey, the drones told people to stay a safe distance apart, while in California they're used for homeless outreach. Both states are under shelter in place orders because of the coronavirus.
  • The Italian military has also used drones to enforce stay at home orders. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The US has joined other countries in using drones to monitor and enforce social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. Police in California and New Jersey have adopted drones to limit personal contact and share COVID-19 information, Patrick McGee at the Financial Times reported.
In Elizabeth, New Jersey, police used drones to spread an automated message reminding people of stay at home orders. New Jersey has been one of the hardest-hit states in the US, and in March the state's governor called in the National Guard for help, converting buildings into medical facilities.
In California, at least two police departments have used drones primarily to reach out to homeless people, who are particularly at risk for coronavirus.
In Chula Vista, California, close to San Diego, police used drones to reach out to a homeless population over eight square miles through "difficult terrain and dense foliage," according to the Financial Times. In San Pablo, California, police similarly used drones as a way to reach the homeless without the risk of in-person communication.
Medical experts and homeless advocates have stated unsheltered residents are particularly at risk as social distancing is difficult in shelters or encampments, and people who have exposed or diagnosed with COVID-19 lack the ability to isolate themselves. A new study estimates that 3,400 homeless people in the US will die from COVID-19, and more than 21,000 will be hospitalized.
Some on social media criticized the use of drones by police departments. Vanity Fair said the move was akin to entering "dystopian territory".
Here are some of the drones being deployed around the US.
SEE ALSO: 'Pandemic drones' could single people out in a crowd for coughing, sneezing, or running a temperature, developers say — here's how they work

The San Pablo police department is using drones from US drone maker Impossible Aerospace.



The US-1 drone was designed for first responders, with potential uses like search and rescue.



The drones blasted messages about services and how to access help related to coronavirus in Spanish and English, according to the Financial Times.



Police departments say that the drones, which are remotely controlled and equipped with cameras that can be viewed by the department, are not being used for increased surveillance on vulnerable populations.



Elizabeth, New Jersey is using drones from Chinese competitor DJI, the largest drone manufacturer in the world.



On April 1, DJI announced a disaster relief program giving 100 drones to 45 organizations across 22 states.



DJI said that it received hundreds of requests from police departments around the country, and chose the ones hardest hit by COVID-19.



These are where the drones went.



The Mayor of Elizabeth announced the drones as part of his daily coronavirus briefings.



Elizabeth has been hit hard by the coronavirus, and one nursing home has reported at least 26 deaths.



On April 7, the official police department account tweeted that the drones would be used to "help combat people not following social distancing."






The message said that the city has been using drones since 2018, and it received five DJI drones through the disaster relief program.



The new drones, which have voice capabilities, fly around the city and play a message from the mayor telling people to stop gathering and go home.



People found to be in violation of stay at home orders will face up to $1000 fine.



The department almost immediately faced backlash on Twitter, where it wrote: "we are trying to save lives, not be Big Brother."



Source: Twitter



The department tweeted that the drones didn't capture photos or video, but were just a tool of encouragement, but many of the Twitter responses showed that people didn't believe that.






Commenters were angry at the perceived invasion of privacy, and at the origin of the drones.



DJI emphasizes the security of the model, which is password protected.



It also has an advanced camera, with 4K video recording and up to 3x zoom.



Images also come with a GPS time stamp.



It can also take heat measurements.



Other companies and agencies have proposed drones as a way of dealing with the coronavirus, like a "Pandemic drone" that could identify a person coughing or sneezing, even from a distance.



Source: Business Insider



Italian police also used drones to track down people violating lockdown orders.



Source: Business Insider





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