Case Against Baltimore Surveillance Program Heads to 4th Circuit

Judge Richard D. Bennet filed a memorandum opinion on April 24 in regards to an ongoing surveillance case between Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS) and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). This case is being held in the District of Maryland.

On April 9, LBS filed a complaint against the BPD, alleging that its Aerial Investigative Research (AIR) program presented a novel privacy threat and violated the Baltimore community’s First and Fourth Amendment rights. The surveillance program was designed to help “solve violent crimes, specifically: homicides and attempted murder, shootings resulting in injury, armed robbery, and carjacking.” As part of the operation, three planes flying for 12 hours a day would capture 32 miles of the city per image every second. The complaint claimed, “though the program’s objectives to reduce crime and violence are laudable, the Constitution dictates that this all-seeing and ever-present ‘eye in the sky’ is not an available solution.” As a result of the BPD’s alleged violations, LBS sought a preliminary injunction prohibiting the AIR program.

In his recently filed opinion, Judge Bennet denies the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and allows the AIR program to proceed. He explains that the low quality of the images produced by the planes would make individuals appear as “minuscule dots moving about a city landscape.” Bennett writes, “This limited form of aerial surveillance does not constitute a ‘search’ under the fourth amendment, nor does it burden first amendment speech activities.” On the same day as the memorandum’s filing, LBS issued a notice of appeal.

LBS is a grassroots think-tank striving to “drastically improve the conditions of Black people in the Baltimore-Metropolitan Region.” Counsel for LBS includes the American Civil Liberties Union.