Select Page

EFF Urges Federal Appeals Court to Rehear Case Involving Unconstitutional Baltimore Aerial Surveillance Program

Last week, EFF urged the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to reconsider a split three-judge panel’s ruling that the Baltimore Police Department’s aerial surveillance of the city’s more than half a million residents is constitutional. In a friend-of-the-court brief—which was joined by the Brennan Center for Justice, Electronic Privacy Information Center, FreedomWorks, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Rutherford Institute—we argue that the panel decision is both wrong on the law and failed to appreciate the disparate burden of government surveillance borne by communities of color.

In May, the Baltimore Police Department launched its Aerial Investigation Research (AIR) Pilot Program. For six months, three surveillance aircrafts operated by a private company called Persistent Surveillance Systems flew over Baltimore—covering about 90 percent of the city—for 12 hours every day. The planes produced images that even at a resolution of “one pixel per person” allowed the police to track individual’s movements over multi-day periods, especially when combined with the police’s networks of more than 800 ground-based surveillance cameras and automated license plate readers.

Before the AIR program went into effect, the ACLU sued to block it on behalf of a grassroots organization called Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle that advocates for the interests of Black people in Baltimore and two prominent community activists. But the district court allowed the AIR program to go forward, and a Fourth Circuit panel affirmed that decision by a 2-1 vote. The Fourth Circuit’s Chief Judge Roger Gregory issued a powerful dissent that criticized the court for “invoke[ing] the tragedies imparted by gun violence in Baltimore to justify its grant of sweeping surveillance powers to the [Baltimore Police Department].” 

Our brief urges the full Fourth Circuit to reconsider two crucial legal errors in the panel’s opinion. First, the panel failed to recognize that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Carpenter applies to the AIR program. In Carpenter, the Court affirmed that the Fourth Amendment protects records of an individual’s location over time—precisely what the AIR program offers the police. And second, we showed why the panel’s discussion of the AIR program in the context of Supreme Court precedents involving searches for non-law enforcement objectives was severely misguided: the AIR program’s only purpose is to help the police investigate crimes. 

We also put the AIR program in the context of the disproportionate harm of police surveillance on communities of color. As we write in our brief:

Police experiment with, and eventually deploy, intrusive technologies like the AIR program in cities with large communities of color. Before Baltimore, PSS operated surveillance flights above Compton, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Dayton, Ohio.  The company also seeks to conduct surveillance of St. Louis, Missouri.  Further, governments routinely deploy aerial surveillance technologies against individuals participating in racial justice movements, like those protesting against the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Michael Brown in Ferguson,  and Freddie Gray in Baltimore

We are hopeful that the court will take up the case again and withdraw the panel’s flawed opinion. In another case involving a warrantless search earlier this year, the full Fourth Circuit vacated a panel decision and issued a careful, well-reasoned decision. As Chief Judge Gregory wrote in that case: “If merely preventing crime was enough to pass constitutional muster, the authority of the Fourth Amendment would become moot.” The same is true here.


This post has been republished with permission from a publicly-available RSS feed found on EFF. The views expressed by the original author(s) do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Libertarian Hub, its owners or administrators. Any images included in the original article belong to and are the sole responsibility of the original author/website. The Libertarian Hub makes no claims of ownership of any imported photos/images and shall not be held liable for any unintended copyright infringement. Submit a DCMA takedown request.

-> Click Here to Read the Original Article <-

About The Author

Nathaniel Sobel

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows. Visit https://www.eff.org

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Welcome

Bringing together a variety of news and information from some of today’s most important libertarian thought leaders. All feeds are checked and refreshed every hour and pages auto-refresh every 15 minutes. External images are deleted after 30 days.

Time since last refresh: 0 second

Publish Your Own Article

Follow The Libertarian Hub

 

Support Our Work

Support the Libertarian Hub by tipping with Bitcoin!

Send BTC:
19PU2K7448gKxAvisR5cF6X5RquYfWu5vZ

Weekly Newsletter

Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a weekly email report of the top five most popular articles on the Libertarian Hub!

Weekly Newsletter SignupTop 5 Stories of the Week

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a weekly email report of the top five most popular articles on the Libertarian Hub!