Rights Advocates Slam Baltimore's "Incomprehensible" Police Spying

Revelations that Baltimore police are spying on residents from the air—which the department publicly confirmed for the first time on Wednesday—have prompted outrage from civil liberties activists who slammed the program as “incomprehensible and unacceptable.”

Bloomberg revealed this week that the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) had secretly been spying on its residents with small aircrafts outfitted with cameras, originally developed for use by the U.S. Department of Defense, since January. The company that provided the technology, Persistent Surveillance Systems, had a long-term contract with the department, but the public was never informed.

David Rocah, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland, told the Baltimore Sun that the technology was “virtually equivalent to attaching a GPS tracker to each and every one of us every time we walk out of our house or office building.”

The revelations are particularly shocking because a recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the BPD uncovered systemic racial discrimination and civil rights violations—and they signal the continued militarization of domestic policing, he added.

“The fact that the BPD has been engaged in a secret program of mass surveillance is both incomprehensible and unacceptable. It is even more astounding that this could be done during a Justice Department investigation into the BPD that found pervasive racial bias and lack of accountability,” Rocah said in a statement Wednesday.

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