Searching data collected by police planes is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, according to Baltimore’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Thursday ruling ordered the Baltimore Police Department to stop using data collected from a since-ended aerial surveillance program, The Hill reports. In a majority opinion, Fourth Circuit Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote that data collected from the Aerial Investigation Research (AIR) program amounted to a “warrantless operation” and search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in Maryland District Court last April, on behalf of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a grassroots think-tank that advances the interests of Black Baltimore residents. The ACLU argued that AIR threatened the rights to privacy and free association for Baltimore residents in the case, which eventually appeared before the Fourth Circuit Court. In his ruling, Gregory said that the program — which entailed flying planes 40 hours a week to collect wide-angle photos of Baltimore — “has already tracked movements and identified individuals with AIR data and now has access to the resulting intelligence.” The ruling prevents Baltimore police from blocking a lawsuit over the surveillance planes, Bloomberg Law reports.