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ACLU sues BPD over surveillance plane program

surveillance plane baltimore city
Posted at 2:06 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 14:12:37-04

BALTIMORE — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the Baltimore Police Department arguing that an aerial surveillance plane program is unconstitutional.

ACLU attorneys are asking a court to block the police department from beginning the 180 day pilot program, saying its an invasion of citizens privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments.

The suit was filed on behalf of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Erricka Bridgeford, co-founder of the Baltimore Ceasefire 365 project, and Kevin James, a community organizer.

Persistent Surveillance Systems was contracted by the police department to fly over the streets of Baltimore at least 40 hours a week. The program however will come at no cost to city tax payers and is being completely funded by Arnold Ventures.

The resolution of images captured by the plane doesn't show a specific human being, but rather a small dot which indicates a person and their movement.

RELATED: Baltimore BOE approves aerial surveillance plane pilot program

Though the department says the program will focus strictly on violent crimes after they happen, the ACLU says they're concerned other technology such as CCTV cameras and license plate readers could be combined to learn citizens identities and activities.

“The BPD’s unconstitutional aerial surveillance program 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," said Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Center for Democracy.

Baltimore City's Board of Estimates approved the program last Wednesday on a 3-2 vote. Only City Council President Brandon Scott and Comptroller Joan Pratt voted against the plane.