Public Defender Asks Baltimore PD to Suspend Aerial Spying

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The Maryland Office of the Public Defender has asked Baltimore police to stop filming citizens from the sky until the public is briefed on the program and defense attorneys are given access to the footage, reports the Baltimore Sun. The public defender also wants to know how evidence gathered by the recently disclosed aerial surveillance program has been stored, accessed and used in the prosecution of criminal defendants. The office said the program should be shelved until there are “in-depth conversations” about how it works, and police should stop analyzing footage unless they have “prior judicial authorization in the form of a search warrant or equivalent court order.”

Baltimore Deputy Public Defender Natalie Finegar made those requests in letters delivered Monday to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and prosecutors. Police officials were reviewing the request, a spokesman said. Police acknowledged last week that a private donor had paid a private company to conduct aerial surveillance on the department’s behalf from a small Cessna airplane flying 8,000 feet above the city. Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems has conducted about 300 hours of aerial surveillance since January. Its cameras film about 32 square miles of the city at a time. Police said last week they were going to continue the program for several more weeks and then review it to determine whether it is effective in fighting crime. Civil liberties advocates say the surveillance of without warrants violates the rights of citizens. The Baltimore City Council and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have said they were not notified in advance of the surveillance program.

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