The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Maryland filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) to challenge the constitutionality of deploying a wide-area aerial surveillance program.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues the surveillance system presents a threat to individual right to privacy and free association under the First and Fourth Amendments, respectively. The legal team is seeking an injunction blocking the operation of the aerial surveillance program. The suit was filed on behalf of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, grassroots think tank that advances the public policy interests of Black people in Baltimore, Erricka Bridgeford, co-founder of the Baltimore Ceasefire 365 project, and Kevin James, a community organizer and hip-hop musician.
According to the ACLU, the BPD has contracted with a private company to pilot an“Aerial Investigation Research” program with high-resolution, camera-equipped planes will fly over the entire city of Baltimore at least 40 hours a week. The cameras create a slow frame rate video record of everywhere that anyone goes, allowing police to retroactively track a person’s movements from any place or time. The pilot program is set to begin this month for a trial period of 180 days.
David Rocah, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland, says, “Putting residents under continuous, aerial surveillance will impact the privacy rights of everyone, but it is especially dangerous for Black and Brown communities. Baltimore is a city with a terrible history of racism and lack of accountability for abuses by police. It’s the last place a novel system of mass surveillance should be tested.”