Maryland House Committee Holds Hearing on Bill to Limit Warrantless Aerial Surveillance

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 6, 2022) –  Last week, a Maryland House committee held a hearing on a bill to prohibit “persistent aerial surveillance” in the state. Passage of the bill would not only protect privacy in Maryland; it would also hinder the rapidly-expanding national surveillance state.

Del. Robin Grammer (R) and Del. Dan Cox (R) introduced House Bill 545 (HB545) on Jan. 31. The legislation would prohibit any state agency from conducting “persistent aerial surveillance” to gather evidence or other information in a criminal investigation without a warrant.

On March 1, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill, an important first step in the legislative process.

HB545 defines “persistent aerial surveillance” as “the use of aircraft, as defined in § 5–101 of the transportation article, to record video or a concurrent series of images or pictures that when viewed in aggregate depict a person’s actions over time.”

The legislation includes several exceptions that would allow police to engage in warrantless aerial surveillance including, on location during the execution of an arrest warrant, during a “fresh pursuit” of a suspect, search and rescue operations, to locate an escaped prisoner, and in a few other specific instances.

The bill is in response to an aerial surveillance pilot program the Baltimore Police Department ran last year.  According to the BPD, “one or more aircraft” operated approximately 40 hours per week and collected imagery of over 90 percent of the city. The pilot program ended last October.

The city council approved the privately-funded six-month program. Supporters argued it would help solve crimes. The ACLU sued in federal court, arguing it violated the First and Fourth Amendments, but federal courts shot down that argument. As an article published by the Cato Institute explains, under SCOTUS jurisprudence, “the warrantless surveillance of property from the air does not constitute a Fourth Amendment search. According to the Supreme Court, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of your private property observed from the air.”

The BPD claimed the program was a success. HB545 would prohibit the police department from restarting the program.


Limiting surveillance at the state and local level hinders the operation of the ever-growing and interconnected national surveillance state. Information gathered at the state and local level often ends up in federal databases.

The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. In other words, stingrays create the potential for the federal government to track the movement of millions of Americans with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it.

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

The federal government encourages and funds the purchase of surveillance technology at the state and local level across the U.S., thereby undoubtedly gaining access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information itself. By placing restrictions on surveillance, state and local governments limit the data available that the feds can access.

In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. The enactment of laws limiting or prohibiting surveillance strikes a major blow to the surveillance state and would be a win for privacy.


The House Judiciary Committee must vote on HB545 and pass it by a majority before it can move forward in the legislative process.

The post Maryland House Committee Holds Hearing on Bill to Limit Warrantless Aerial Surveillance first appeared on Tenth Amendment Center.

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