The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the city of Baltimore from rolling out a disturbing aerial surveillance program.
The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of a group of Baltimore community activists who have raised concerns about the introduction of a controversial technology known as wide-area aerial surveillance which involves stationing an aircraft equipped with ultra-high-resolution cameras over a city to track all visible pedestrians and vehicles within that city.
The ACLU writes:
Imagine a day in the future when everyone, from the moment they step outside their home, has to live with the knowledge that their every movement is being recorded by powerful cameras circling in the skies above. Not just where they work, shop, eat and drink, and whose homes they visit, but details about their political, religious, sexual, and medical lives—all captured and stored in databases without a warrant and available to law enforcement upon request.
That day is here.
The ACLU states in the lawsuit that the program would violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to freedom of association and privacy. The rights group argues that government tracking of everyone in a city would violate the Constitution’s ban on “general warrants,” which authorize searches under broad and vague criteria. The ACLU states that the systems violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and the First Amendment’s guarantees of the right to assemble. The ACLU also notes that the Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the courts’ role when interpreting new technology is to protect the “degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.”
The wide-area aerial surveillance technology—originally used for monitoring citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan in a program called “Gorgon Stare”—is yet another example of tools from the U.S.-led Global War on Terror making their way to American cities. Coincidentally, the company behind the technology, Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), was founded by Ross McNutt, a former colonel in the U.S. Air Force who worked on similar programs in the military. McNutt and PSS are now preparing to roll out the same technology in the skies above Baltimore.
The company has been promoting the technology to local police for years. However, the Baltimore police department is the first to embrace the idea.