Baltimore has a bad reputation for being one of the most dangerous places in the country. The Maryland city is notorious for high rates of both violent crime and property crime. But the police department’s plan to use widespread aerial surveillance is being met with serious pushback.
Starting today, police will watch Baltimore’s 600,000 citizens whenever they step outside. If that sounds like something out of a dystopian novel to you, then you are not alone.
The Baltimore Police Department contracted Persistent Surveillance Systems to fly three planes over the city. These surveillance tools will each take one photo per second. Stitched together, that allows police to monitor activity across 90% of the city at all times.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison claims that they will use the information to investigate homicides, non-fatal shootings, armed robberies and carjackings.
“I have no expectation of what it would do or what it will not do because [we haven’t done this] in the United States before,” he told The Associated Press. “What I’ve been shown shows me that it’s a potential tool that could be used by detectives in the crime fight.”
In addition to the planes, they’re using drones to supplement normal policing duties. Drones proved useful in some cases, such as finding missing children. But they also represent a tremendous opportunity for abuse by law enforcement.
There simply aren’t privacy laws on the books yet for this type of surveillance. Without privacy restrictions, some people worry about a “1984” police state where officials monitor innocent people nonstop.
ACLU Files Lawsuit
Shortly after Baltimore approved the use of drones, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the police department.
The ACLU is arguing that “this surveillance system presents a threat to our individual right to privacy and free association under the First and Fourth Amendments, respectively.”
The organization wants an injunction to block the police department from their plans to spy on the city. Brett Max Kaufman, the senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, said of the program:
“[It would be] the most wide-reaching surveillance dragnet ever employed in an American city, and if it’s allowed to move forward, it could become a chilling and all-seeing part of daily life all over the country.”
“This technology is the equivalent to having a police officer follow you every time you leave the house. It presents a society-changing threat to everyone’s rights to privacy and free association, and we need to put a stop to it now,” Kaufman said.