Baltimore Police Can’t Explain Why Their All-Seeing Spy Planes Were Kept Secret
Police officials in Baltimore are trying to deflect controversy over an aerial mass-surveillance program exposed earlier this week, in which a private company quietly keeps watch over a 32-mile radius of the city by flying planes overhead for as many as 10 hours a day. Smith justified the program by alluding to two cases from the 1980s, in which the Supreme Court ruled that police don’t need a warrant to observe a suspect from above using helicopters. But those cases notably involved surveillance of a single person, not half an entire city of 621,000 people.
Smith was also unable to explain why the pilot program circumvented the procurement process, which usually allows the public to know what new technologies are being sought through the posting of contract solicitations. The program was funded through a $120,000 contribution from Laura and John Arnold, two Texas billionaires who have also invested in the controversial the ‘risk assessment’ software used in some states to algorithmically determine whether criminal defendants should be granted bail.