Baltimore Aerial Surveillance Program Retained Data Despite 45-Day Privacy Policy Limit

From the time the existence of this massive surveillance program was revealed in August, the program’s operators have been touting the privacy protections that are supposedly in place, and assuring the public that they are sufficient. In particular, they have been claiming that the imagery is retained for 45 days unless it is part of an investigation. An online Baltimore police FAQ states:

    How long do you keep the data?
    We keep our imagery data for 45 days unless there are ongoing investigations or prosecutions associated with the data.

But a new document indicates that’s not the truth. One of the groups that has been very concerned about the secrecy of this program is public defenders in Baltimore. As public defender Kelly Swanston put it in a Baltimore Sun op-ed,

    Our office did not know the BPD was working with the Community Support Program to collect data on our clients' movements and then using the data to charge our clients with crimes without disclosing the source of the evidence. For our innocent clients, we missed opportunities to subpoena exonerating footage collected by the spy plane. For our clients who were mistreated by officers, or whose versions of the truth differed from an officer's report, we failed to corroborate the truth because we did not know that a plane had captured footage of the city. The BPD, and by extension the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, had data that likely could have corroborated our clients' innocence in the face of an officer's inconsistent statement, but they decided to keep it a secret….

Hiding the technology and surveillance systems used to solve crimes does not create a fairer justice system; it encourages officers to leave material facts out of reports and to lie about the real probable cause for locating someone, and it deprives people of access to evidence that could lead to their exoneration. If individuals knew about the documentation of their movements, they could subpoena the footage when an officer gives an untrue account of a police encounter.

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