Mysterious planes began flying over Baltimore several days after the death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent riots and protests.
After various freedom of information requests by MSNBC it turns out the mysterious planes were being flown by the FBI with super-high gigapixel resolution cameras which allows them to monitor every pedestrian and vehicle on the ground.
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These are just the technologies that we know about so far.
Investigating the flights over Baltimore, The Washington Post was told by an unnamed “government official” that the flights were apparently carried out by the FBI at the request of local law enforcement, and that they were using infrared cameras of some kind “to monitor movements of people in the vicinity.” That could mean a range of different things.
It’s possible the craft weren’t doing much more than basic aerial spotting for the police. But they may also have been using some of these very new and very powerful technologies. We as a society are going to need to grapple with what kinds of rules are needed for such devices. We need to strike the right balance between the needs of law enforcement and the need to protect the privacy of individuals and prevent our country from becoming a surveillance society.
In a democracy, these are value judgments that should be made by the public. But too often we have seen government officials arrogating unto themselves the power to make these judgments – for example, by deploying technologies such as cell phone trackers and license plate scanners without even informing communities, let alone securing their permission. Through our FOIA requests and other efforts, we will continue pushing to ensure that the American public at least knows what’s going on.