swiveled

a constitutional and human rights blog

Aerial surveillance

blimp

Increasingly, US law enforcement agencies are borrowing military technology and taking to the air in order to monitor US citizens on American soil.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Sheriff’s Department in Lancaster, California this week will deploy a “new aerial surveillance system…similar to drones used by the military to survey war zones” in order to catch law-breakers on the ground. The technology being tested consists of a “radar system…attached to a piloted single-engine Cessna.”

The Washington Post notes that the US Border Patrol is testing the ability of balloons with mounted cameras to scan areas of Texas near the US/Mexico border. The balloons are on loan from the Defense Department and are used in Iraq and Afghanistan to guard military bases.

While these new methods of surveillance may help police apprehend criminals, some question whether the methods are constitutional. The Los Angeles Times quotes ACLU attorney Peter Bibring:

People who have done nothing wrong shouldn’t have anything they do in their yards or homes subject to video surveillance from the sky.

To the extent that it involves observing things which a typical pilot overhead might not be able to see, it raises serious constitutional questions.

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