Big Brother? U.S. company's aerial surveillance technology raises questions

Police in Baltimore have been conducting aerial surveillance over neighborhoods for months, using a plane with high-tech cameras to investigate crimes. It was a closely guarded secret -- until now.

CBS News first reported about the camera technology last year, when we visited the Persistent Surveillance Systems’ headquarters.

From wide angle cameras mounted on a small plane, the company is able to see roughly 32 square miles -- transmitting the images live and instantly archiving them, allowing police to essentially rewind time.

In June, that plane was flying over Baltimore watching for signs of unrest the day Officer Ceasar Goodson was found not guilty in Freddie Gray’s death. The police apparently did not publicly disclose that fact until Wednesday.
  
“The only people that should be concerned in the city of Baltimore​ are criminals,” said police spokesman T.J. Smith. He defended the technology, which he says led to the arrest of a man wanted for shooting two elderly people in Febuary.


“We are going to do whatever we can to go after those who choose to harm our city,” Smith said.

While the cameras are not high resolution, people and cars appear as dots that can be followed, allowing police to sync with cameras on the ground.

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A plane used for crime investigation by Persistent Surveillance.

CBS News

“It is spying,” said Jay Stanley from the American Civil Liberties Union. He wants the program shut down. “I hate to use term Big Brother ... but it’s an eye in the sky looking at the entire city at once.”

The system was originally developed for the military use in Iraq to find people who planted bombs. But police agencies in Pennsylvania, California, and Ohio have also tested this technology.