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ACLU Sues Baltimore Police Over Aerial Surveillance

ACLU Sues Baltimore Police Over Aerial Surveillance

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department this month over a controversial surveillance program that utilizes spy planes with high-resolution cameras to monitor civilians.

“It is equivalent to having a police officer follow us, each of us, outside all the time in case we might commit a crime,” argues ACLU attorney David Rocah. “If that happened in real life, everyone would clearly understand the privacy and First Amendment implications, and it would never be tolerated.”

The program involves three drones operated by Ohio-based company Persistent Surveillance Systems. The program allows Baltimore police to use images captured by the planes to aid investigations of homicides, shootings, and other violent crimes. The program does not allow police to use the drones to conduct real-time surveillance.

“When I heard about this, I thought it was insane. I thought that the last thing that Baltimore City Police needs right now is more power in the form of surveillance,” says Kevin James, a community organizer.

City officials approved the plan on April 1st despite formal objections filed by the ACLU and the Legal Defense Fund. The case is now being considered by Baltimore Judge Richard Bennett, who is expected to make a decision by April 24th.

If all goes according to plan, a six-month trial costing nearly $4 million will begin next month. With its three drones, Persistent Surveillance Systems will be able to maintain video footage of roughly 90% of the city at any given time. Critics worry the footage will be combined with information from ground cameras and license plate readers to obtain information in a manner that clearly violates residents’ privacy. Critics also worry the program will be adopted by police departments in other cities if it is allowed in Baltimore.

“Putting residents under continuous, aerial surveillance will impact the privacy rights of everyone, but it is especially dangerous for Black and Brown communities,” argues Rocah. “Baltimore is a city with a terrible history of racism and lack of accountability for abuses by police. It’s the last place a novel system of mass surveillance should be tested.”

Even so, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison defended the program as a “force multiplier” that will aid the police department “while we are practicing social distancing.” His words make no sense, as the data collected during the trial run will be of no use because it will be collected during a time when most people are staying inside.

To make this even worse:

For reasons unclear, the aerial surveillance program is being funded solely by a billionaire couple from Texas.

In 2016, Persistent Surveillance Systems used a small Cessna airplane to spy on Baltimore residents for months without informing the public. They collected 300 hours of secret footage, including images pertaining to the death of Freddie Gray.

That same year, the Baltimore Police Department signed a consent decree with the Department of Justice after the police were found to have demonstrated a pattern of unconstitutional conduct.

Editor’s Note: Very dangerous. Once again our government has decided to spy on its people.

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  1. Larry Herring

    I agree , they want to kill each other , leave them alone

  2. Donald C Pratt

    How did I know this article would.come down to race…… whole I don’t agree with the surveillance abuses, the writer of thos article didn’t need to throw race into it.

    • Paul D

      I would usually agree with you, race needs to be left out of it, but I took it in a positive way, that because the PD is known for having racially related abuses by the cops, it would be a way to monitor the cops.

      Now, anyone who knows the city and how their PD operates would know that the video of the Freddie Gray incident was not used, so why would the PD use other video to hold their employees culpable?

      It is clearly a Socialist way of monitoring the innocent in the remote hopes of being able to capture someone committing a crime. Straight out of the book “1984” by George Orwell. Give a socialist an inch and they will take 100 miles.

      This has to be stopped!

  3. DB

    Thats an interesting aircraft. I wonder if they are using it as a “public aircraft” or if the belly pod has an STC. I have never seen one yet. It is my understanding that if the aircraft has not had FAA approval through an STC and not a Public Aircraft, then it falls into Experimental Aircraft category and those have limitations on where they can fly and when.

  4. Glenn Christmas

    How in the world is this Spying? Looking to catch thugs, rapists, carjackers and worse “in the act” is hardly spying. Exactly where in the Constitution does it say police, or anyone for that matter, are prohibited from taking photos of public streets? Nowhere. What’s next with your zealotry, no more photos of/at M&T Stadium because a “person of color” might be there?

    • Joe Gilbertson

      It is not the job of the government to systematically spy on innocent citizens. Think about this from a political power perspective. A political party could use this to keep their political opponents under constant surveillance with the hope of catching them in something that can be used against them. In fact, political types could stage something and then use the videos against their opponent. Or they could simply obtain a picture of their opponent picking his nose, or reading a playboy magazine at a news stand, or accidentally bumping into someone.

      Think this is unlikely? Follow the FBI investigation of Trump, where a FISA warrant was falsified to begin an investigation, strictly for political purposes.

      Read Orwell’s 1984, it might give you a perspective.

    • Carabec

      Trump it’s my

  5. R. Hamilton

    I see no particular right to privacy in any public place. This would bother me in a low-crime area, but targeted in extreme crime cities like Baltimore or Chicago, I have no problem treating those areas as if everyone was a “person of interest”, until the certainty of consequence significantly changed behavior.

  6. Derek Blurb

    ACLU objecting to being surveiled? It is now obvious they do have something to hide increase surveillance if ACLU and have the DOJ investigate!

  7. mousekiller

    Considering the that is one of the most dangerous cities in the US , I think it should have been done years ago. The citizens don’t seem to want to do anything to fix it. So don’t bitch about it when some one else tries.You people had your chance and did nothing. Afraid of the gang bangers and the ghetto hoods so they hid behind locked doors. . You elected legislators that used you. Legislators that did nothing for your neighborhoods even tho money was there to help. You have been living a repeat and repeat again the most corrupt politicians money can buy. Only you, the residents and voters can put a stop to this. Stop suffering from RCI Rectal Cranial. Inversion.

    • Cg

      You always have to keep an eye in the sky for troublemakers!