Civic News

Add planes to the list of government surveillance tools in Baltimore

A Cessna 560 Citation V, one of which is pictured here, was one of the planes mysteriously circling Baltimore last week.

(Photo by Flickr user Bill Word, used under a Creative Commons license)

The constant whir from above reminded residents that Baltimore City was being watched last week, but the choppers weren’t the only eyes in the sky.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a pair of mysterious surveillance planes were also keeping watch over West Baltimore during the last week’s unrest. One of the planes was discovered by a curious guy sitting in his backyard listening to the Orioles game, who immediately took to Twitter.

Flight records maintained by the Web site Flightradar24 show two Cessnas — one a propeller plane, the other a small jet — flying precise formations over the part of West Baltimore where the rioting had occurred. The smaller Cessna conducted flights in the area on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, always after dark. The planes used infrared technology to monitor movements of people in the vicinity, the official said.

An anonymous government official told the Post that the flights were “aerial support that Baltimore police requested from the FBI.” The American Civil Liberties Union is now raising questions about the aerial surveillance, with senior policy analyst Jay Stanley saying “the public should have a right to know what’s going on.”
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The discovery once again puts Baltimore in the middle of questions about government surveillance conducted without public disclosure.
The police department’s use of a cellphone tracking device, known as a Stingray, thrust the city into the middle of the ACLU’s efforts to make information about the use of the device public.
To the east, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a surveillance blimp also flies high above the city. It’s part of a program with Raytheon that is testing a radar system to detect cruise missiles, drones or other threatening aircraft entering East Coast airspace.

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