ACLU finds FBI used infrared surveillance over Baltimore homes

Nov 02, 2015 1:21 am
[caption width="400" align="aligncenter"] Flight path of surveillance planes in Baltimore from ACLU.[/caption]
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Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney, in the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project on Oct. 30 released FBI and FAA documents with new details about the surveillance flights that flew over protests in Baltimore following the police killing of Freddie Gray. Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, reveal the FBI used infrared and night-vision cameras, and it is holding on to surveillance video it recorded from the sky. According to its flight logs, the ACLU reports, the FBI flew 10 surveillance flights over Baltimore between April 29 and May 3, with a Baltimore Police Department official also on half the flights. FAA documents show the Cessna propeller plane registered to the FBI front company, NG Research, had surveillance camera equipment on board including an infrared camera mount and a FLIR Talon multi-sensor camera system on the exterior of the plane. That FLIR system includes a “thermal imager,” an optical camera, and a “laser illuminator” for recording at night. Wessler, from the ACLU, writes, "In its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, the FBI takes the position that no Fourth Amendment protections apply to 'aerial surveillance conducted from navigable airspace.' While that is an accurate statement of Supreme Court precedent when it comes to visual observation and use of normal cameras from a plane, it fails to grapple with the effect of advances in surveillance technology. Use of infrared and night-vision camera technology changes the equation by raising the potential for invasions of privacy.... If the infrared camera is capable of observing information about the inside of private homes and offices, for example, the Supreme Court has already explained that the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies."