Court Rips Baltimore's Aerial Surveillance

Program violated the Fourth Amendment, opinion says
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2021 6:40 PM CDT
City's Aerial Surveillance Was Unconstitutional, Court Rules
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announcing support for an aerial surveillance pilot program in December 2019.   (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun via AP, File)

A federal court ruled Thursday that Baltimore's crime-fighting surveillance flights were unconstitutional and that police can't use any of the information gathered by the planes. The judges said the program violated the Fourth Amendment safeguard against illegal searches, the Verge reports. The planes' cameras were intended to record the movements of anyone in the city, though Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the system would be used only in the investigation of homicides, non-fatal shootings, armed robberies, and carjackings. The groups' suit on behalf of Black leaders said the surveillance program threatened Baltimore residents' privacy rights, per the AP.

In the 8-7 decision, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed. "Allowing the police to wield this power unchecked is anathema to the values enshrined in our Fourth Amendment," the chief judge wrote for the court, per the Baltimore Sun. A dissenting opinion called Baltimore, given its crime statistics, "one of the most dangerous cities in America. Yet somehow the majority sees oversurveillance as Baltimore's big problem." The city dropped the surveillance program earlier this year, but activists still sought a temporary injunction to shut it down and prevent the use of the camera footage. The court decided the case was not moot because the city still has that footage. The police department made no immediate comment on the ruling. (More Baltimore stories.)

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