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Connecticut town reverses course on 'pandemic drones' amid privacy concerns

The Westport Police Department has chosen to opt out of a program that would use drones to detect person with a fever or cough from afar.
A police drone in Westport, Conn.
A police drone in Westport, Conn.NBC Connecticut

A Connecticut police force is grounding its plans to test a "pandemic drone" that would detect a person with a fever or cough, after privacy concerns were raised.

The town of Westport has chosen to opt out of the ‘“Flatten the Curve Pilot Program” from drone manufacturer Draganfly, according to NBC Connecticut. Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas said Thursday that while he was thankful for the opportunity to participate, he also wanted to be responsive to citizens' concerns.

“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,” Koskinas said, according to NBC Connecticut.

A number of people and organizations raised privacy concerns after the town announced its intentions to partner with Draganfly. People from around the country responded to the police department’s Facebook post Tuesday with criticism over the decision.

“An extreme and disgusting over reach of government,” one Facebook user wrote. “Big brother is watching indeed.”

The state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement against the program Wednesday and argued that technology is “no magic pill” to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Towns and the state should be wary of self-interested, privacy-invading companies using COVID-19 as a chance to market their products and create future business opportunities,” David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, wrote in his statement.

The Westport Police Department launched a drone program in 2016 to help dive teams in locating submerged objects and victims. It later expanded the program for assistance in accident investigations, documentation of scenes and search-and-rescue.