Baltimore Revives Surveillance Flights

Civil liberties groups oppose the pilot program, as they did last time
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 25, 2019 1:00 PM CST

(Newser) – Starting with a trial run in May, Baltimore will become the first city in the country to use private surveillance planes to battle crime. The announcement reflected a change of heart by the city's police commissioner, the Sun reports, after a lobbying campaign. Michael Harrison had said the program was unproven. A similar pilot program in 2016 was dropped after opposition arose on civil liberties grounds. "I'm obviously well aware of the plane's controversial history,” the commissioner said. "I'm looking forward to hearing from our community and to educate them on what this is and what this is not." The pilots have been funded by Texas billionaires Laura and John Arnold.

Civil liberties groups still oppose the flights, per CBS, and the ACLU objected immediately to the decision, joining a statement saying: "The surveillance plane means putting every resident of Baltimore under permanent surveillance, creating a video record of everywhere that everyone goes every time they walk outside. If the police did that in real life, in person on our streets, we would never accept it." Harrison said the planes will be used to investigate past shootings and robberies, not for real-time surveillance. They'll be deployed in daylight, at an altitude of 8,500 feet, he said, and officers will not have direct access to the footage during the pilot program. (Surveillance balloons have been used, too.)

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