On Friday, October 7, 2016, Baltimore police released information about a secret surveillance program that had been underway for the past eight months. They had employed a plane to fly over the city and take pictures of every street, and over one million photos were taken as a result of this operation.
The plane has reportedly flown over the city around one hundred times and spent over 314 hours in the air taking chronological visuals of the city’s streets.
The surveillance program began back in January of this year, and no elected Baltimore officials were informed about this program until much later in the process. The information released shows that the plane made multiple trips ranging between one-to-five hours long over the eight month period.
The plane stopped making flights after a Bloomberg Businessweek article leaked information about the police department’s secret program back in August. The police are planning to use the plane again as a terrorist prevention tool and have it fly over the city during Fleet Week and during the Boston Marathon on October 15th.
There has been a lot of blowback about this surveillance program because of its potentially invasive nature and because of the secrecy surrounding its implementation.
The people of Baltimore and civil liberty groups in the area and around the country are upset over the program, because they believe that it is infringing upon the privacy rights of the entire city.
The ACLU and other city politicians are planning on introducing legislation that will restrict the surveillance techniques the police can use, along with making sure that the public is informed about the programs and are able to voice their opinions before any official action is taken.
This is not the first time that the city of Baltimore has been involved in a secret surveillance operation. The FBI worked with the Baltimore Police Department, helping them use Stingray devices which were meant to follow the movements of suspects in criminal cases.
Members of the police department had to sign a non-disclosure agreement where they promised to tell absolutely no one about the use of these devices. However, the Supreme Court decided over the summer that Stingray usage was unconstitutional and needed to be discontinued.
Proponents of the surveillance program say that it could help law enforcement be more precise and enable them to track down criminals who are on the run. The aerial technology will let the police zoom in on a crime scene and go back in time to pinpoint potential suspects and ultimately track them down.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis believes that this technology will help the city move away from outdated methods of crime prevention and take advantage of “a real opportunity to police smarter.”
Maryland defense attorney Kush Arora commented, ““The sheer amount of secrecy and shadow maneuvering involved in police use of this program tells you everything you need to know about its potential danger. Making the streets of Baltimore safer is a laudable goal, but we should always be wary of such massive intrusions into our privacy.”