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Step Outside in This City, Get Recorded Everywhere

Aerial surveillance in Baltimore meant to deter homicides, but irks ACLU, privacy advocates
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 1, 2020 1:07 PM CDT

(Newser) – Starting Friday, the roughly 600,000 people living in Baltimore will be constantly recorded whenever they step out under the open sky. For the next six months, up to three airplanes outfitted with wide-angle cameras will sweep over Baltimore in daytime flights designed to capture movements across about 90% of the city, per the AP. Software will stitch together photos taken once each second, creating a continuous visual record to support the street-level cameras, license plate readers, and gunfire sound detectors police already use to try to solve crimes. Analysts alerted to a crime will be able to zoom in from the citywide image and move backward and forward in time to identify the movements of potential suspects and witnesses, telling officers within hours where to look for people who traveled to and from the scene.

Persistent Surveillance Systems will capture the images and provide analysis to cops. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison promises the system will only be used to investigate homicides, non-fatal shootings, armed robberies, and carjackings.Third-party researchers will evaluate whether the program leads to arrests and case closures, earns public support, and ultimately has a deterrent effect. The ACLU of Maryland argues this continuous aerial surveillance infringes upon reasonable expectations of privacy regarding movement, results in indiscriminate searches without a warrant, and impedes the right to gather freely. But Harrison says the Supreme Court has ruled "there is no expectation of privacy in a public place." A federal judge denied the ACLU's request for a preliminary injunction; the plaintiffs are appealing. (Read more Baltimore stories.)

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