Surveillance or Security? St. Louis Faces Controversial Drone Program

A City Divided: The Debate Over Drone Surveillance in St. Louis

A private drone company, SMS Novel Films, is set to launch a live-streaming program in St. Louis, sparking a heated debate over privacy and safety. Despite facing significant backlash from residents and city leaders, the company's founder, Jomo Johnson, is moving forward with the initiative, reports KSDK.

Innovative Surveillance or Invasion of Privacy?

The program, commencing on February 5, will see drones flying over various areas of St. Louis for three hours daily. Johnson emphasizes the potential crime deterrent effect, stating, “It can cause awareness that if you are a criminal or have criminal motives, that you are being watched.”

Surveillance Or Security? St. Louis Faces Controversial Drone Program 2

However, this sentiment is not shared by all. St. Louis residents express deep concerns about their privacy. Johnson counters these fears, asserting the drones will operate at high altitudes, reducing the risk of invading personal spaces. He clarifies, “It's not going to be near home, it's not going to be in a person's backyard. It's not going to be an invasion of privacy.”

Legal and Ethical Challenges

Critics of the program, including local residents and organizations, accuse Johnson of neglecting community engagement and flouting city laws by operating without a business license. They argue, “St. Louisans don't want his surveillance drones in the sky.”

St. Louis 7th Ward Alderwoman Alisha Sonnier highlights the city's efforts in drafting a bill to regulate commercial drone activities. She mentions that city park rangers have already prevented SMS Novel from operating over Forest Park, citing permit requirements for such activities.

Surveillance Or Security? St. Louis Faces Controversial Drone Program 3

Data Handling and City Regulations

Addressing concerns about data privacy, Johnson assures that the footage streamed will neither be saved, shared, nor sold. “This is simply to be able to provide a unique look at various cities, including St. Louis,” he explains.

Sonnier, however, indicates that the city will closely monitor the program and enforce laws, including permit requirements. The controversy raises questions about the balance between technological advancement and personal privacy rights.

The Future of Drone Surveillance in St. Louis

As St. Louis stands at the crossroads of embracing innovative surveillance technology and protecting individual privacy, the debate continues. The outcome of this program could set a precedent for how emerging technologies are integrated into urban life while respecting and ethical boundaries.

Photos courtesy of SMS Novel Films and KSDK.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ or @hayekesteloo.

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