You'll never look at a Cessna the same way: The Washington Post delves into a new surveillance technology that can track any person or vehicle across a small city for hours via 12 192-megapixel cameras mounted on an aircraft. Though people appear as dark specks on a gray background and faces and details are impossible to make out, the system shows crimes as they develop, and their aftermath; in one case, images showed a group assembling, a shooter approaching his target, and a body hitting the ground. What it also showed: the hideout where the shooter fled. The system costs less than police helicopters—about $1,500 to $2,000 per hour—and it could drive a precipitous drop in crime, says Ross McNutt, president of Persistent Surveillance Systems. He guesses his cameras would spot up to 50 crimes during a six-hour flight over Washington, DC. "We watch 25 square miles, so you see lots of crimes," he says. "And by the way, after people commit crimes, they drive like idiots."
Cue privacy advocates: "If you turn your country into a totalitarian surveillance state, there's always some wrongdoing you can prevent," says one expert with the ACLU. Adds a human rights researcher, "You know where there's a lot less crime? There's a lot less crime in China." But McNutt says there are boundaries in place. For one, you can't really see what people are doing and the pictures are only to be used once a crime has been reported. And he already has at least one fan. "I want them to be worried that we're watching," Dayton's police chief notes. "I want them to be worried that they never know when we're overhead." But while police surveillance usually gets the green light, surveillance that's not visible to the naked eye is often ruled an unconstitutional search without a warrant. Click over to the Post for the full piece. (Read more surveillance stories.)