It’s called wide area, mass, persistent video surveillance. Is it a threat to privacy?
In 2016, police secretly tested a video surveillance airplane over Baltimore that captured super high resolution video over the entire city. It was stopped by public outcry due to privacy concerns. Now the Baltimore Police Department is trying again.
The size of each frame is 192 million pixels, equivalent to 800 video cameras at once, covering a 32 square mile area. The resulting surveillance video is saved and can be reviewed backwards and forwards in time to track people and cars from a crime scene. For example, investigators can track a car involved in an incident to discover where it originated, with who else it interacted, and where it went.
The plane and camera technology was developed during the Iraq War and used successfully to track individuals who planted car bombs. The technology has been developed and improved over the years by the private company, Persistent Surveillance.
The 2016 test with the Baltimore Police Department was halted due to community concerns over privacy, but operator Persistent Surveillance acknowledges that it continued to record throughout 2017 over the skies in Baltimore. It used police scanners to hear about crimes, then zoomed to the location on its surveillance, tracked prior to and after the crime to find potential suspects, followed them on their recorded video as they traveled, and provided this video evidence for free to the police.
Now politicians and the Baltimore Police Department are trying to build community support for using the high tech eye in the sky.
Persistent Surveillance has been granted private funds totaling $1.6 million that would support them in Baltimore for a year, should it be approved.
The system has already been tested above the skies of Philadelphia, Compton, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Nogales, Mexico.
Video surveillance cameras are everywhere already anyway, recording your every move, so what’s the big deal?
This technology works. It helps to track down criminals and leads to their arrest. In combination with police investigations, normal surveillance video, and forensic video and audio clarification, this will bring down crime.
When is surveillance video or audio legal? It depends on a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. When would an individual expect that no one should be watching him or her or listening to his or her conversation? If an individual would not reasonably expect they are being heard or seen, then a warrant is required to make that recording.
It is highly doubtful that people reasonably expect that their every move in the streets will be tracked in this way.
Jay Stanley from the ACLU is against this video surveillance. He told Bloomberg, “We could stop some crimes if we allowed the government to put cameras in our kitchens and bedrooms, but as a society we have decided that we’re not going to go there.”
If this moves forward, will only the police department in Baltimore have easy access to the video surveillance, or would the public also be able to have access? That remains to be seen, pun intended.