Since January, police have been testing an aerial surveillance system adapted from the surge in Iraq. And they neglected to tell the public.
A company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, based in Dayton, Ohio, provided the service to the police, and the funding came from a private donor. No public disclosure of the program had ever been made.
McNutt believes the technology would be most effective if used in a transparent, publicly acknowledged manner; part of the system’s effectiveness, he said, rests in its potential to deter criminal activity. … In 2006 he gave the military Angel Fire, a wide-area, live-feed surveillance system that could cast an unblinking eye on an entire city. … This produced a searchable, constantly updating photographic map that was stored on hard drives. His elevator pitch was irresistible: “Imagine Google Earth with TiVo capability.”
Even six months after the flights began, some Baltimore police officers still didn’t know exactly how the surveillance program worked.
[McNutt]’s exasperated when his system is criticized not for what it does, but for its potential. Yet for critics like Stanley, the two can’t be separated. … McNutt says he’s sure his system can withstand a public unveiling and that the more people know about what his cameras can—and can’t—do, the fewer worries they’ll have. But the police ultimately decide who and what should be tracked.
“I said to myself, ‘This is where the rubber hits the road. The technology has finally arrived, and Big Brother, which everyone has always talked about, is finally here.’ ”
— Jay Stanley, ACLU senior policy analyst and privacy expert