In the months since the COViD-19 pandemic began, governments around the world have been utilizing a wide range of technological devices to enforce quarantines. Advanced surveillance and tracking have been made possible by cellphone data, CCTV cameras, and drones.
Surveillance drones were used during the lockdown in China to monitor neighborhoods to ensure that residents were staying indoors. Drones were also used to spray disinfectants during the outbreak as well.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged additional governments to use similar tactics to enforce quarantines. Police in Spain have been using drones to patrol the streets and order citizens to stay home during the lockdown.
Most Americans doubted that these types of measures would happen at home, but police in California have already announced a plan to use drones equipped with cameras and loudspeakers to enforce the recently imposed quarantine orders.
In Chula Vista, a town just outside of San Diego, police purchased at least two drones from the Chinese company DJI for $11,000 each.
Vern Sallee, one of the city’s police captains, told the Financial Times that the drones could be used to “disperse crowds” without the need for a human officer to be involved.
“We have not traditionally mounted speakers to our drones, but . . . if we need to cover a large area to get an announcement out, or if there were a crowd somewhere that we needed to disperse – we could do it without getting police officers involved,” Sallee said.
“The outbreak has changed my view of expanding the program as rapidly as I can,” he added.
Sallee also suggested that the drones could be used to give homeless people updates or orders about the pandemic, since many of them may not have access to the Internet and may be unaware of the current situation.
“We need to tell them we actually have resources for them—they are vulnerable right now. It might be impractical or unsafe for our officers to be put into those areas,” Sallee said.
Spencer Gore, chief executive of Impossible Aerospace, a California-based maker of high-performance drones used by first responders, admitted that the idea “seems a little Orwellian,” but insisted that it could “save lives.”
“What we saw in China, and what we’re probably going to see around the world, is using drones with cameras and loudspeakers to fly around to see if people are gathering where they shouldn’t be, and telling them to go home,” Gore said.