Westport is ending its participation in a controversial “pandemic drone” program to suss out potential coronavirus patients after an outcry from residents and others who complained that the initiative infringed on people’s privacy rights.
Westport’s police department had teamed up with a Canadian company named Draganfly on the initiative, which was called the “Flatten the Curve Pilot Program.”
Under the program, the department’s drones were outfitted with Draganfly’s specialized sensors and computer vision systems that measured a person’s fever, temperature, heart and respiratory rates from as far as 190 feet in the air, Draganfly claimed. The technology also detected people sneezing and coughing in crowds.
Soon after the announcement of the program, however, people complained that to the police department and First Selectman Jim Marpe that it was intrusive and an invasion of privacy. Though Draganfly said it was not using facial recognition software, nor was it collecting any personal data, residents complained that it was still too much like Big Brother.
“The Department’s recent announcement of its plan to partner and participate in a test of new drone technology has resulted in varied expressions of public concern and reservations,” Westport police officials wrote in a statement. “To those who have reached out directly to the police department, to the Selectman’s office or otherwise made public these questions or concerns, we sincerely thank you for your continued community engagement and seek to assure you that your voices have been heard.”
Marpe said that the program was a “good faith effort to get ahead of the virus,” and was designed to help determine the “potential need to manage and safely monitor crowds and social distancing” in town.
“Our announcement was perhaps misinterpreted, not well-received, and posed many additional questions,” 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.”
Added Westport Police Chief Koskinas, “I am always committed to bringing our community the most innovative solutions to the public safety problems that it faces. Although I see the greater potential of this technology, I will always be responsive and respectful of the concerns of our citizens in every decision that I make. It is a fact that the COVID-19 virus continues to spread
through the global community, and therefore poses a serious and credible threat to us all now and in the future. In our steadfast commitment to public service, we remain honored to have been given an opportunity to assist in a pilot program which could someday prove to be a valuable lifesaving tool. We thank Draganfly for offering the pilot program to Westport and sincerely hope to be included in future innovations once we are convinced the program is appropriate for Westport.”
The Westport Police Department said it”has always made public safety its primary focus while simultaneously respecting the civil liberties of our residents and visitors. We remain steadfast in honoring this commitment.”
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