Magazine article The New Yorker

Look out Above

Magazine article The New Yorker

Look out Above

Article excerpt

Parking rules change. For example, the New York Police Department will sometimes alter the time parameters on a reliable spot. You think your car is good there after, say, 7 P.M., but now, unnoted by you, a new sign says otherwise, and so the morning brings an unexpected summons--another sum unpaid. The city parker must be ever vigilant.

In recent weeks, in select locations around town, new signs have started popping up. In red-and-white, in the standard typeface, the signs, each of them initialled "NYPD," read: "ATTENTION Drone Activity in Progress" or "ATTENTION Local Statutes Enforced by Drone" or "ATTENTION Authorized Drone Strike Zone 8am-8pm Including Sunday."

At first, the mind--the noticing kind, anyway--reels. Drones? Strike zone? Even on Sundays? What about Martin Luther King, Jr., Day? Is there such a thing as alternate-side-of-the-street drone-striking? The robot wars: here so soon? You might find yourself glancing up at the sky.

Then the mind--the medicated kind--settles. The cops may have cameras everywhere, and Segways and helicopters, and robots for defusing bombs, but they do not, do they, possess or deploy unmanned drones. They probably will someday, but for now there hasn't been anything in the news, has there, about an arsenal of drones drifting overhead, spying on us as we jaywalk or binge on trans fats or toss the Automobiles section of the Times without so much as a glance.

Well, actually, there was something. A year ago, the Gay City News made a Freedom of Information request of the Federal Aviation Administration about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. It turned up in an e-mail to the F.A.A. from an N.Y.P.D. counterterrorism detective, who was inquiring about permission to fly drones. "Currently, we are in the basic stages of investigating the possible use of UAV's as a law enforcement tool," he wrote. In August, the Gay City News ran a story about the possibility of drones in New York. The implications were grand, even if the focus was narrow; the lead read, "Heads up, park cruisers."

This story, among many others that describe more advanced drone operations around the country, caught the eye of a twenty-eight-year-old photographer in Manhattan, whose name, for the purposes of this account, must be redacted. He had served two tours in Iraq as a geospatial analyst for the Army. He'd worked with satellite and drone images to provide maps for troops on the ground. …

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