No, this isn’t bait from ‘Clickhole’.
This system, known as “wide-area surveillance” and run by an Ohio company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, involves the deployment of megapixel cameras on a Cessna aircraft, which circles over a city for up to 10 hours at a time, continuously photographing a 30-square-mile area and giving police the ability to retroactively track any vehicle or pedestrian within that area. It is the ultimate Big Brother “eye in the sky.”
…In 2015, we learned that Cessna aircraft were circling over Baltimore in the wake of protests following the police killing of Freddy Gray, and immediately feared that this kind of wide-area surveillance was involved. Further reporting revealed that these flights, which were also spotted over many other American communities, were being run by the FBI, which told the AP that its fleet was “not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.” At the time, we were relieved to hear that.
Now we learn that wide-area surveillance is being conducted over Baltimore. And despite all the public questioning and statements of concern by us and others, and our freedom-of-information requests, and the extensive press coverage the FBI’s Baltimore flights received, the Baltimore police did not see fit to ask the public’s permission to use this startling new technology on the city’s population. Instead, it arrogated unto itself in secret the decision to deploy this technology.
…In fact, the Baltimore police went out of their way to avoid telling the public what they were doing. As Businessweek reports, they refused to comment on the program for the story, and the city has not even acknowledged that it exists. When photos from the system led the police to believe that a man was involved in a high-profile shooting, the police didn’t answer questions from the community about why they suspected the man in question. (To give credit where credit is due, McNutt, unlike the police and unlike other surveillance companies such as the makers of Stingray cell phone tracking equipment, was forthcoming about his company and technology with Businessweek, as he was with me, and said that he believes the technology should be used in a transparent, publicly acknowledged manner.)
It is all the worse given the Department of Justice’s recent scathing report of rampant, long-running and pervasive racial bias in the Baltimore Police Department and an almost total lack of accountability for wrongdoing.