Overhead Surveillance Causes Privacy and Constitutional Concerns

Whenever drones, cameras, or other surveillance equipment are involved in our lives, the first question we usually have is how that technology will impact our right to privacy. This is particularly true when it comes to law enforcement, where the constitution provides us certain privacy rights, and restricts how and when the government can search our property.

Baltimore Police Using Overhead Surveillance

It was recently revealed that the Baltimore police department has been surveilling people from the sky, using a Cessna that was funded by a private donor. The news came as a surprise even to the mayor and the city council. Many are upset not just at the nature of the program, but over the allegation that it has been kept hidden for some period of time.

As you might imagine, many are also concerned over the privacy implications. Police contend that the program assists them in identifying potential criminal activity, and that the camera resolutions are too low to actually identify faces.

But the range of the cameras—up to 32 miles at any one time—are concerning to privacy advocates, who say that any surveillance should require a warrant. If police could not constitutionally watch someone sitting in their own fenced in backyard without a warrant, they should not be able to do so with a drone. At the very least, if the filming must occur, access to view what is filmed should require a warrant, just as any police search and seizure would.

As the footage will include that of many people who are not remotely involved in criminal activity, city council members and privacy advocates also have questions about where the tapes will be stored, and for how long.

Defense Attorneys Have Constitutional Concerns

Still, private citizens walking in broad daylight on public streets may not have any expectation of privacy. Thus, there may be no laws restricting aerial taping. But the use of drones in criminal convictions brings up entirely different issues.

Criminal defense attorneys say that in many cases, the footage may have been used to assist the prosecution without the defendants being aware of the tape’s existence. That means there was evidence in a criminal trial that the defense was not aware of and had no opportunity to review.

Even evidence that the state does not intend to use at trial, but which it relies upon in accusing someone, has to be revealed to a defense attorney. Likewise, evidence that would tend to show a defendant is innocent must be turned over by the prosecution.

Defense attorneys have concern that some of those tapes may have had evidence that could have helped in exculpating their clients. Yet, there is no current formal way for defense attorneys to access the tapes for review. Until there is, many defense attorneys want the program stopped.

Make sure that your constitutional rights to privacy are protected if you are accused of committing a crime. If you or your family member are arrested, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.