Secret Aerial Surveillance Provokes Outrage in Baltimore

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Officials and civil rights advocates in Baltimore are expressing outrage over revelations that a private company has been conducting secret aerial surveillance on behalf of the city’s police department—collecting and storing footage from neighborhoods, with no public oversight.

For months, Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems has been testing sophisticated new cameras affixed to a small Cessna, flying over the city, according to a report in Bloomberg Businessweek, which was given exclusive access to the testing program. Police the following day confirmed the program to the Baltimore Sun, admitting to having collected some 300 hours of surveillance this year.

Speaking to the paper, department spokesman T.J. Smith took issue with characterization of the program as “secret surveillance,” suggesting there was no need for the department to make it public. He likened the program to an expansion of the city’s existing CitiWatch system of street cameras.

“There was no conspiracy not to disclose it,” he said. “We consistently go out and get ourselves involved in new technology, find different ways to bring that technology to Baltimore.”

Elected officials don’t see it that way.

“I’m angry that I didn’t know about it and we did it in secrecy, which is unacceptable,” said City Councilman Brandon Scott. “We have to be transparent about it, and we have to make sure that we’re using it in the right way, especially given all of the things that have come out about the police department,” he added, in an implicit reference to the recent police brutality outrages.

But Scott, vice chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, doesn’t want to shut the program down.  

“A lot of black people have asked for CCTV surveillance in their neighborhoods,” he said.

David Rocah, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, was less forgiving.

“The fact that the city of Baltimore thought that they could adopt it in secret with no public input is beyond astounding,” he said.

Rocah added that the technology is “virtually equivalent to attaching a GPS tracker to each and every one of us every time we walk out of our house or office building.”

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  1. “A lot of black people have asked for CCTV surveillance in their neighborhoods,” he said.”

    Did they specifically ask for them to be in their back yards?

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  3. Invasion of privacy. Nonsense. Draw the line somewhere. Stay out of my backyard! None of anyone’s business. This used to be America, wtf

    1. It is clearly legal and even the ACLU says that. They just say you should change the law. There are specific supreme court rulings that directly apply Florida v Reilly states that the police can fly over your house in a helicopter at 400 feet look through the missing panes in the roof of your green house and see that you are growing dope and use that to get a search warrant. That was held as constitutional. What these guys are doing is no where near as intrusive. There is a great radio lab piece on this eye in the sky http://www.radiolab.org/story/eye-sky/ and the even briefed the ACLU a couple years ago . The ACLU guy even introduces them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYhjktrmPuA Both are really interesting and might help you understand what they are doing and what they re not doing.

      1. No it will explain what they should and should not be doing not necessarily what they are doing. Sort of like saying officers are not allowed to use choke holds,but when they ignored that and a person died. They did not get charged with murder it was simply labelled as a breakdown in policy. So the people call BS.

      2. Legal does not mean right or just. There are costs to living in a free society, and not one with armed guards and cameras on every corner.

        1. Please tell that to the 688 mothers and fathers who had there sons and daughters killed last year. To the thousands who can not let their kids out of the house at night or often during the day. How free do you think they feel in there neighborhoods.

  4. The news paper polls are running about 90% in favor of the program. Maybe the 334 murders in the area and over 670 shootings last year make people a bit more worried about they or their kids getting shot then having their little dots tracked from crime scenes. BY the way no one is looking in your back yard. They are following little dots from crime scenes to help solve murders, shooting, stabbings and the like. Frankly no one cares about what you do in your back yard. Why do you think they would look there when they do not have time to look at all the serious crimes they have within the imagery? Are you really that important?

    1. For the same reason they do no knock raids at wrong addresses. For the same reason the police would have hissy fits if citizens employed the same tactics and used drones to say watch the police station or if BLM used them to follow officers home ya feel me. People can’t take the police at their word anymore they lost that respect.

      1. Except when you want one when you are a victim of crime. Also if you follow a officer home and threaten them it is a great way to get shot. Sort of similar to charging at them after assaulting them. They are trained — two the the chest – one to the head – repeat until the threat is eliminated. And I would never joke about that.

        1. Lol. I lived 7 mile and Vandyke Detroit the last thing anyone does is call police. Who said anything about threatening them? One employing surveillance need not threaten and would not.kinda the point of the drone.

    2. SO, I guess you’re one of those that thinks,,”Only bad people don’t like it and if you’re nothing doing anything bad you shouldn’t care”,,right?

      1. No I am one of the people who think that people who are living in in crime ridden communities and are calling and calling for police support deserve the best support they can get. That these people do not deserve to be left in the areas with out support and effective policing to allow them to live their lives without fear and threats from the criminals who currently control many of the areas. Maybe your should go and spend the night or even an afternoon in some of these areas and see how free you feel. Maybe you should get out of your parents basement and see what the rest of us see in a daily basis.

        1. Tell you what chump I’m 57 years old and retired and I sure don’t need any advice from a whinny little wimp like you!If they are in crime ridden areas why can’t they do something about it themselves then if the police won’t show up! I don’t go to those areas because I don’t have too! You’re probably living in them yourself and too much of a sissy to do anything except call the police because your so scared to do anything yourself! As soon as the thought police start kicking your door in because you “might” be doing something wrong it will be too late to turn things back! Get out of your parents basement??? Yeah right!!! Shows how stupid you are!!! Go back to bad,,mommy is ready to tuck you in!!

          1. Your right – lets have them take care of it themselves. Who needs the rule of law. We should take care of shooting and murders our selves? We can just arm everyone and turn them loose. That will fix everything. Just like Chicago. But we will also make sure that the law abiding citizens can not arm themselves to protect themselves. That sounds like a real winner. Do you even think about what you type before you type it?

          2. And when the bad guy is in your house and the cops are 10 minutes away do you really think they will stop and wait till they get there? Go ahead and tell them “I called the cops so wait here till there get here!” You response was just what I was expecting to hear, since you sound like a bit of a sissy who’s probably scared of guns! Do YOU ever think before you put something on? Probably not since nothing you have said so far makes no sense! But go on,,,let yourself become a victim waiting for the cops while the bad guys rob you blind!!!

    3. Except that it won’t stop there. “Oh, while we were investigating this crime, we noticed some crops growing over in a field…”

      Fuck this shit. 1984 is here.

  5. If you stop and think about it they did attach a GPS to everyone, it’s that little thing called a cell phone, or on star in many vehicles difference is the flying ones can see in windows. But if it’s good for them then surely they won’t have any complaints if citizens return the favour and have drones watching the police and station, or if hypothetically BLM sag shot them down who knows

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