Baltimore Cops Admit They've Been Filming Citizens From Sky
But it wasn't a 'secret' program, they say
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 25, 2016 11:52 AM CDT
In this April 29, 2015 file photo, police stand in formation as a curfew approaches in Baltimore.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(Newser) – Baltimore police are keeping an eye on city residents from the sky. On Tuesday, Bloomberg Businessweek revealed the secret aerial surveillance system police had been using since January, and on Wednesday, police confirmed they have indeed been carrying out aerial surveillance to investigate crimes, the Guardian reports. But a police spokesperson insists it's "not a secret surveillance program" and "there was no conspiracy not to disclose it." But even the mayor, city council, and board of estimates were in the dark about the program until the Bloomberg story came out. Police say the system was used for 100 hours between January and February and 200 hours over the summer, and that it will be used for a few more weeks as police decide whether to use it permanently. (The controversial system has been used elsewhere.)

Per Bloomberg's story, the surveillance involves a Cessna plane that circles the city for up to 10 hours a day, armed with sophisticated cameras that transmit real-time images to analysts on the ground; the footage is also reportedly archived for later use if needed. Persistent Surveillance Systems provided the system, which allows police to track suspects as they move around, and it was privately funded. A slew of officials and activists have slammed both the surveillance and the fact that police kept it secret for so long, including the ACLU and the office of the public defender. A government surveillance expert says the legal standing of the surveillance system is unclear, since it's "currently being litigated in a number of areas," but that citizens may have "a constitutional right to be free from pervasive location tracking without court authorization."