Bowing to public backlash, a Connecticut town has canceled plans to use drones to stealthily check residents for signs of coronavirus.
The town wanted to partner with drone maker Draganfly, which said its drones would use special cameras to monitor the heart rate, respiratory rate and skin temperature of residents.
Residents balked at the first-of-its-kind program.
“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,” Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a statement posted on Facebook.
He conceded that plans for drone medical surveillance of the population were “not well-received.”
Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell had promised his drones would not collect “individualized data” or identify people.
“The system takes population samples and provides this anonymized data to our public safety officials so that we can have clear data giving us indication of population health and allowing our officials to make decisions based on real data,” Mr. Chell said in the video released before the town pulled out. “This system and our work with public safety officials is so important because never again do we want to be in a situation where we’re having to make such drastic guesses for such tremendous decisions that affect not just human lives but also the economy and the world population.”
Mr. Chell said his company was “pleasantly overwhelmed” by the feedback from public safety agencies nationwide that are interested in using drones to conduct biometric surveillance on their constituents.
Westport may still be interested in the future.
Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas said on Facebook the police have scrapped the program now but hope to find appropriate scenarios where the town can work with the drones in the future.
“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,” Mr. Koskinas said. “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.”
Westport previously began a drone program in 2016, and one of its officers, Ryan Paulsson, has received a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate small unmanned aircraft systems.