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Baltimore City Board Approves Spy Plane Surveillance Program: ‘The Racial Impact of This Technology Is Significant’

Baltimore’s Board of Estimates voted in favor of a surveillance program that would allow planes to patrol the skies and document happenings on the streets.

The 3-2 vote occurred on last Wednesday, during a live-streamed meeting, reported The Baltimore Sun. Board members voted in favor of a six-month pilot plan which would allow pilots to fly planes, with cameras attached, over the city. The cameras would take pictures that could be used to solve murders, shootings, armed robberies and carjackings. The Board of Estimates is composed of the city’s mayor, president of the City Council, the comptroller, city solicitor, and the director of Public Works.

The program is privately funded by Texas-based firm Arnold Ventured, which is owned by philanthropists Laura and John Arnold.

Opponents of the initiative expressed concerned about how the surveillance would affect Baltimore’s Black and Brown communities.

ACLU Maryland attorney David Rocah believes the program will exacerbate issues with existing cameras which are not “distributed in Baltimore in a racially neutral way.”

“They are overwhelmingly located in Baltimore’s black and brown neighborhoods,” he said. “The racial impact of this technology is significant.”

Monique Dixon, state advocacy director at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, expressed concerns about potential violations of citizens’ constitutional rights, namely the 14th Amendment, which grants due process. She also argued the flights might cause already skeptical residents to distrust law enforcement.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison favors the program and insists there is nothing to worry about. The collected data will be stored for only 45 days unless it is needed for an investigation. Also, there will be no live observation, since investigators won’t see anything until the planes have landed.

“I fully appreciate that the opponents of this program … have fundamental and philosophical beliefs against this kind of technology,” Harrison said. “These differing viewpoints are not solely isolated to this claim and extend to many other tools BPD uses every day.”

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