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Mysterious Planes Over Baltimore Spark Surveillance Suspicions (aclu.org)
282 points by CapitalistCartr on May 7, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 143 comments

If you're big into crowd-sourcing:

There are super-inexpensive RTL-SDR dongles[1] that can be used to track airplanes such as this.

I'm not a lawyer, but I've fooled around with these dongles and a few programs enough to discern that Gov't aircraft absolutely need to broadcast their info on the 1090MHz band.

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to have a few people pop these up and see if they could monitor the airplanes that are monitoring the city! :)

Just to expand a little bit:

You get an SDR, plug it in and use a program like `dump1090` or FlightAware. The repurposed TV Tuner will then listen to data on 1090MHz and decode airplane's Active Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) messages.

The ADS-B messages typically contain flight callsign, location (lat,lon), altitude, heading, and a few other tidbits.

There's a really active community around things like this. [2]

[1] http://www.amazon.com/RTL-SDR-DVB-T-Stick-RTL2832U-R820T/dp/... [2] http://www.rtl-sdr.com

Since, for whatever reason, I enjoy tracking flights as a hobby, here's a couple of extra tidbits:

1) If you are in the right area, Flight Radar 24 might actually give you the equipment for free. See here: http://www.flightradar24.com/free-ads-b-equipment for info.

2) It is unlikely that even aircraft that the government desires to be secret will stop broadcasting ADS-B anytime soon, as one of the major usages is avoiding mid-air collisions when airplanes are in airspace shared with commercial airliners. Secret surveillance planes might be unpopular, but they'll only be headline news if they were to run into a 757.

3) ADS-B broadcasts won't be required for all commercial airplane traffic[2] in the US until 2020. As such, there's still quite a few airplanes without it, particularly those that airlines plan to retire within the next five years.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_dependent_surveillanc... [2] IIRC, the actual regulation is a requirement for ADS-B on all airplanes flying at 10K feet or above.

FlightAware has an awesome and rapidly growing ADS-B program as well. In particular, one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get into ADS-B flight tracking is with PiAware, which lets you convert a Raspberry Pi into an ADS-B receiver:


If you have a spare Android phone that you're not using anymore, you can even turn it into an ADS-B receiver:


I know absolutely nothing about this so forgive me if I'm asking a dumb question. ADS-B broadcasts so that other planes can figure out where you are and avoid you, correct? Why can't spy planes stop broadcasting it, but then listen for other planes' ADS-B signals, and just make sure to stay away from them? That way the only crash might be between two different spy planes?

It isn't mandatory. It'll be mandatory by 2020, but for now, these planes need to broadcast ADS-B.


There has been quite a few incidents in Europe concerning a certain neighbor of the EU doing this [1].

[1] http://www.google.com/search?q=transponder+russia

ADS-B isn't so much that it keeps 'your' plane from colliding with another one.

It's used to keep other planes away from you.

If there's an ADS-B broadcast for a specific location, then the autopilot on all other airplanes will automatically avoid that location.

genuine question, what do you get out of this hobby? i'm not trying to sneer or trivialize it, i'm sincerely curious about what makes it interesting to people who enjoy it

It's just an outgrowth of the fact that I find commercial aviation fascinating, really. I'll occasionally pull up flights near where I am, but I usually use tools to track whatever flights I find interesting for other reasons (off the top of my head, for instance, American Airlines' first revenue 787 flight was today, and I watched that one this morning).

Some people enjoy tracking birds some people enjoy tracking aircraft. If you're not into that you probably won't get it I knew a guy who was a plane spotter and he would get a kick of being able to recognize a commercial jet by its sound and even estimate it's approach and altitude. I didn't get why he enjoyed that, and i don't think that you can relate to that to understand it if you didn't decide to take up that hobby in the first place.

Personally, I find it really cool to just scan through the frequencies and see what's out there.

I've found pagers, police car radio, taxis, satellites, and airplanes.

It's pretty neat that a $10 usb stick can allow someone to listen in on such a variety of things.

You ever look up into the sky and see an airplane and wonder about it?

Here in the future, the answer's no further than your smartphone! Where it's going, where it's from, what it's carrying, freight or passenger? If you're near an airport, how busy is the airport? Which runway is that plane landing on? How many runways are there? What size airplane can that runway handle?

Just general curiosity, really.

Like similar hobbies, it's fun to play around with technical problem solving, numbers and data without the pressure of it being your real job. Often it's linked to a curiosity or experience from when you are young and you just find e tasks a relaxing escape from real world responsibilities. Also it's fun to belong to a community of people who enjoy technical talk.

I do this, and have checked my logs and found evidence of several surveillance aircraft. See my comment below with more details (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9508812).

You miss the fact that ADS-B broadcasts are completely voluntary.

Basically, these were polite "black helicopters."

If they were up to something nefarious, you'd never know, no matter how sophisticated your ADS-B receiver is or what flightradar24 tells you.

1030 mhz will give you some more info in regards to what is being sent to the aircraft.

There is currently no requirement for airplanes to broadcast ADS-B signals.

I have two of those dongles (there were abouto $10 each) and living by the airport don't even need a particularly good antena do dump ADS-B messages out to the console.

Just on a whim, I stuck the little 6" whip antenna on the trunk of my car and plopped my laptop next to it, just to see what I'd get.

I was able to pick up flights taking off from DC, quite a good trip away. 100 miles?

Pretty awesome.

The one tail number that the initial Washington Post article linked to is N39MY[1], which is a Cessna 182T registered to NG Research, PO Box 722 in Bristow, VA. That company's web presence is close to zero, basically below the noise floor.

If you google [po box bristow va] you find FAA records for a bunch of other oddly named companies that all have similarly close-to-zero web presence and addresses that are PO Boxes in Bristow: FVX Research, NBR Aviation, NBY Productions, OBR Leasing, OTV Leasing, PSL Surveys, PXW Services. They all seem to like Cessna 182Ts.

If you Google the tail numbers of aircraft registered to those companies, you start to find forum and mailing list posts (often at sites that tilt toward paranoid/conspiracy/right wing, but not always) with people discussing these specific tail numbers and linking them to the FBI. Some of the supposed evidence includes details of radio communications that people have heard, e.g. talking about "being on station" or using callsigns that start with JENNA, JENA or ROSS, which are supposedly used by the FBI. Other posts claim that DOJ/FBI surveillance aircraft often squawk 4414 or 4415 on their transponders.

I monitor aircraft in Los Angeles using an RTL-SDR dongle. I keep a database of almost every transponder ping I receive. You can see some more info, analysis and examples of stuff I've seen (U-2, AF1, AF2, EXEC-1F, E-6 "Doomsday" planes) at http://viewer.gorilla-repl.org/view.html?source=github&user=... I decided to check my database for planes that have squawked 4414/4415 or used one of the suspicious callsigns: I found 8 aircraft in the past 2 months, several of which exhibit suspicious behavior: Flying for hours at a time without going anywhere in particular (I don't have position information for them, but I know they're in the air and not leaving the LA area), flying almost every day for months at a time, squawking 4414 or 4415, and one that used a JENNA callsign. 2 of them are registered to companies with PO Boxes in Bristow, VA. Another is registered to AEROGRAPHICS INC. 10678 AVIATION LN, MANASSAS VIRGINIA, which googling shows has also been linked to the FBI/DOJ. Several others are registered to WORLDWIDE AIRCRAFT LEASING CORP and NATIONAL AIRCRAFT LEASING CORP in Delaware, similar to other suspected FBI front companies (e.g. Northwest Aircraft Leasing Corp. in Newark, Delaware[2]).

(I call what I'm doing "persistent sousveillance": using historical sensor data to retroactively identify and track new subjects, it's just that my subjects are the government. One of the surprising things I've found is that all you need to do is look: the weird stuff jumps out right away, e.g. Cessnas registered to fake-sounding companies that loiter overhead for hours every day.)

It's a lot of circumstantial evidence, but at this point it doesn't seem far-fetched that I'm monitoring aircraft involved in persistent FBI aerial surveillance.

My twitter has more info: https://twitter.com/lemonodor/status/595814966382469120

Edit: One other thing worth mentioning is that I was surprised at how many local news stories I turned up while googling these planes & companies that fit the template of "Citizens complain about mystery Cessna flying low, circling over their neighborhood".)

[1] http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NN... [2] http://www.wired.com/2006/06/mystery_planes_/

Many of these planes have more antennae than I typically see on a small plane, e.g. https://flightaware.com/photos/view/168017-a0096f5188154b56a... which makes me wonder. I'd like to try to monitor and detect aerial Stingray-type equipment as well.

" Among the companies offering this technology are major defense contractors working for the Pentagon and an Ohio company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, which is trying to sell it to local police departments."

I know this is an unpopular opinion these days but the people working for these companies should be ashamed. There is little use for this technology, especially on US soil, except mass surveillance of the population.

Also an unpopular opinion is that some people (I am not one of them FYI) think mass surveillance of the population is a good thing. It can be hard to understand that position, but there are people who believe mass surveillance, security theater, and the like really are protecting them and that it is all for their own good.

As long as sufficient numbers of these people exist there will be not shortage of people who are not ashamed to staff the government agencies implementing these things and the private companies that support them. Some will even see it as a duty.

It a tool like any other. It can be used for good or evil. What you are doing in the middle of a Baltimore street isn't in any way private information. It's a public as you get.

Sure, it could be used to perpetrate a Holocaust or something, but so could the 101st airborne.

If the government wanted to go all Hitler on us, they already can get google data, facebook data, medical records, essentially everything that is kept on you. Hell, I bet google location services tracks me better than a drone does (if the war in the Pakistan tribal areas is an example).

And drones are way easier to shoot down than googles datacenters.

Put your privacy in hacking and system security terms.

Sure, it might be easier to exploit a webpages sql injection vuln to hijack your server, but does that mean you should stop running software updates?

In other words, yes, you need to fix google and all the rest, but that doesn't mean you should stop caring about other sorts of surveillance.

And, fwiw, not everyone uses those services for this reason.

Do we really want to tie a noose at the end of all the rope we already hand the authorities?

There are tools people with power shouldn't have access to, because people with power do not have a good track record of using them in good faith.

We trust the federal government with the power to, no exaggeration, annihilate the world.

If the government were going to use its power for evil, it'd go knocking on google/facebook/visa/amazon/comcast/grocery store/school/medical/whatever database to find its enemy.

What do you honestly think is a bigger risk for you? Getting murdered by a criminal or the US government via drone. Cause it's like 40k:2 for the past couple year.

The government has quite a bit of power to do things other than actually kill people. It can take away people's lives in many other ways.

Which is are the bigger risks for you? Getting your money taken from you by the government via fines or getting it stolen from you by a criminal? Being forced, under threat of imprisonment, to show up in a location at a specific time and account for your actions by the government or by a corporation, your work, your neighbor? Getting locked up in a basement by a criminal or locked up in a prison by the government?

We give the government quite a lot of power. It behooves us to ensure that power is kept in check.

It's in everyone's best interest that the world isn't annihilated, that power shouldn't be in the hands of people, yet is. That isn't an excuse to hand over more power.

The biggest direct threat to my freedom, and the freedom of the masses, is the expansion of executive power.

Times I've been arrested for expressing my views: 3

Times I've been murdered, injured or locked up by another person: 0

The government already uses the data the private sector collects. It wants better, real-time data using public and invasive techniques that aren't profitable for consumer businesses yet.

I am against both access to that data collected by the private sector and the expansion of mass surveillance. The fact that the data exists is a problem and, ideally, we wouldn't live in a world where surveillance at this extreme for advertising was acceptable.

> What do you honestly think is a bigger risk for you? Getting murdered by a criminal or the US government via drone. Cause it's like 40k:2 for the past couple year.

The fact that there are bad actors in one arena does not obviate the need to push back against bad actors in other arenas. Additionally, one could argue that if the government doesn't follow its own rules, it risks undermining its authority to enforce those rules for others.

>What do you honestly think is a bigger risk for you? Getting murdered by a criminal or the US government via drone.

Non-sequitor. The gov't doesn't use drones to murder people in the US. OTOH, the gov't does inform local authorities on citizens' behavior. Local authorities sometimes go and kick peoples' doors in based on these and other sources of information. Sometimes their information is faulty, sometimes they make another kind of error. It is terribly difficult to hold police accountable when a mistake or abuse has occurred.

That's a hell of a straw man since I don't think anyone was talking about getting murdered by a drone, and the government doesn't seem all that great at catching real criminals.

On the other hand, if I ever disappear in the woods on a hiking trip, I really want the local PD to have twenty drones on standby they can use to canvass the area instead of hoping their one helicopter spots me.

If we're assuming bad faith in the part of the government, and we assume the private sector collects all that information, then there is no point opposing surveillance efforts. It would be trivial for the government to storm a Google data center if they really wanted that information.

There is absolutely a point. It's possible to oppose surveillance on multiple fronts.

The whole point of checks and balances is that the government doesn't do everything it can do, nor does it act as a unified whole. A bad actor in one branch can be held in check by a good actor in another. If the police/FBI/whomever wanted to storm a government center, it's theoretically up to a court to determine if that is legal and constitutional.

ok i do already. my only real concern is the CA system.

even so, there's no harm in supporting the opposition of surveillance efforts in case it might work.

> (if the war in the Pakistan tribal areas is an example)

Does the US govt ask Google and Apple for data from android and iphones which are in that area.

> It can be hard to understand that position, but there are people who believe mass surveillance, security theater, and the like really are protecting them and that it is all for their own good.

Not only that, but supplying the infrastructure for mass surveillance and security theater pays REALLY well.

Along the lines of people who think mass surveillance is a good thing:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” ― Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda

There are plenty of people that support mass surveillance, they are just in the minority and unlikely to speak up about it in a place like HN.

I'm torn between the two positions. I really like the libertarian idea that the government's power should be limited and surveillance is scary and intrusive.

On the other hand I think the technologies are really cool. When license plate readers first started coming out I read a bunch of stuff about them and thought they were really fascinating. Same with facial recognition or speech recognition, etc.

I love the sci fi idea that we will eventually have a society with zero crime, besides crimes of passion or insane people. Anytime a crime happens, police could go back and see everything that happened. The utopia in the novel Manna had an extreme version of this. I thought it was really cool and challenged the standard cultural trope that surveillance is evil.

People today are so afraid of crime that they refuse to let their kids go outside (https://a248.e.akamai.net/f/1202/1579/4m/i.dailymail.co.uk/i...). People lock their doors and buy guns and live in fear. You can argue that it's not rational but that's not relevant. I'd really love to see the fear of crime disappear and this is a practical way to achieve that.

It should of course be a local issue. Some cities would have surveillance drones and others wouldn't. People could then vote with their feet to some extent and raise families where they felt the safest, and I think that's a desirable thing.

I think there should be balance. What most people fear is someone constantly watching them or listening to them. I think the cameras should only be reviewed after the fact when there is a crime, and the data deleted when they it's no longer relevant.

But I've never posted about my opinion on this before and I'm not likely to again. I'd just get shouted at and voted down as I've seen happen to others. People don't want to have a rational debate about this. They don't have a reason to be against surveillance, they just feel it's wrong and creepy and intrusive and mistrust the government. Or are scared they might not be able to get away with a crime if they needed to. And I feel all of those things too, which is why I said I'm torn.

> There are plenty of people that support mass surveillance, they are just in the minority and unlikely to speak up about it in a place like HN.

Except for when you use phrases like "big data", "targeted marketing", "ad retargeting", "data science", "marketing optimization" or "marketing analytics" - in place of "mass surveillance". Then there'll be lots of people talking about and working on the problem.

It would be moral and fair for them to use their practically-unlimited budget and power on slurping up public data — licence plate readers, regular cameras on planes (without the power to see into private domiciles), public twitter feeds, public facebook feeds — and fight crime based on that.

There is no moral and fair reason for the government to secretly break their own laws, eavesdrop on private and privileged communications of their own citizens, and peer into areas previously designated as off-limits without a warrant. So mass surveillance itself isn't a huge problem, but the current implementation and the way it was put into place is.

Right. Thats the difference between Orwells London with cameras in every house, and modern London with cameras in public places.

Be careful about desiring zero crime. Some professor did a study and found that on average every citizen commits 3 felonies a day. Enforce all laws 100% and society would cease to function. (And this is ignoring the problems with vague and contradictory laws.)

Almost all of which are victimless crimes. I'm not saying the police should search everybody's house or monitor everything they do on the internet. Merely recording what happens in public like this is should be sufficient.

Or any form of wide-area surveillance, which isn't necessarily the same as surveillance of mass amounts of people. From an article I read yesterday, the first documented use of FBI domestic surveillance planes was a bribery case that involved a payoff package tossed out of a train in the 30s.

So, these things do have other uses.

Really any of the modern battlefield surveillance and situational awareness systems could theoretically be turned to the purposes of mass surveillance of civilian populations, given the motivation and resources.

Or that heartbeat detection system used in Nepal by NASA.

I would guess that system would actually be very bad at mass surveillance. The radar system would be tuned to detect very small movements (the heartbeat), and reject clutter in the category of anything not moving and static (debris).

So in a wide area with lots of movement, it's ability to determine if something was a separate object or person, and interesting on top of that would be severely limited.

But this is just a SWAG.

By itself, yes. Coupled with other systems, it could potentially be very useful for its ability to determine person-ness of a given thing.

A local police department outside one of the worst areas in the Northeast has the same surveillance systems they used in Baghdad. They like to brag about it in the papers.

There are used in drug interdiction and other coast guard functions. My brother was an Air Force test pilot that tested these for that purpose (he was originally a surveillance pilot flying kc-135s). They are basically a kc-135 in a small jet (e.g., leer jet 35) form factor, and not carrying a team of technicians in the back but instead just equipment, or maybe a technician or two. Officially he's not supposed to know.

Do you mean an RC-135? KC-135 just carries a bunch of fuel, which doesn't seem useful for surveillance.

Yes, sorry, RC-135.

Officially he's not supposed to know and that was the unofficial excuse they gave him before he started asking too many questions. And then he gave you the information he wasn't even supposed to have, facing unemployment and disciplinary actions. How naive can you be?

That can be said for people who are working for Google, Facebook and any other major tech company out there.

All of them milk the heck out of every piece of data they got and each service they put out is designed to milk as much data as possible in the future. Like it or not personal data and clever means of working with it is the new currency for many companies on the market these days.

And some of the stuff they pull off is just as shady as what the NSA and similar organizations do. Heck at this point a better bet will to worry more about those companies than the NSA since for better or for worse the NSA still works for you, they are not planning a coup. Google and every other company out there wants to know as much as they can to not only "own you" financially but to ensure that they can direct virtually every step you take online and offline.

I keep hearing this over and over, products don't actually exist for anyone's sake, they only exist to "sell your data".

Where's the evidence? What does it even mean? It's like somebody came up with this line back in 2004 and then it never died from paranoia. How is said "data" packaged?

The "data" might help google help advertisers advertise better, but it's not like your Drive photos are being viewed by Ebay's ad department.

If I were Google, would I be salivating over all the stuff you uploaded to Drive? Like really, what would I do with it? Maybe there's a small opportunity to take advantage of some sort of data science to improve some sorts of algorithms... but really the overriding factor is that I just want to make a good product to encourage customer lock in, so they use the rest of my ecosystem and namely my search engine.

It's right to be wary of data collection, but the whole "anything that displays ads is by definition strictly an ad company and they will murder your children for the opportunity to sell your SSN" is senseless.

At least these companies provide something that we opt into. Equating it with hardware for actual spying against peaceful populations, I might actually consider evil.

I don't think Google is evil, i also don't think the NSA is evil. Both of them are doing things which are in opposite to your absolute freedom. Which one is worse well it's for you to decide. And I haven't said that Google sell your data, but they do sell data or at least the product of their analysis from what search results caught on during this holiday season to what people have searched to get to your site and how much time they've spent on it. Yes that not evil, but they do design virtually every service with a primary goal of generating data from it because that's their business model. And considering that (or a) you use Google, Amazon and Facebook for the majority of your day to day tasks from finding a how to get somewhere, to getting updates on news and topics of interest to connecting with people they can exert more influence on you than most intelligence agencies out there.

Say PlanetBucks whats to increase the amount of Moppachinos you drink a day, how about paying Koogle to ensure that the routes it suggest when you walk to your friend bring you past one? How about Koogle not displaying information that they do not want you to see or how about Omgzon not showing you products from a country that decided not to give them a tax break last year?

Yes those are all far fetched scenarios, and yes they will not happen any time soon, but none of those scenarios are impossible today. And the scary part is that if those companies wanted to do this besides another Snowden you wouldn't be able to notice any of those activities.

Heck It didn't came as a surprise to me that the NSA have been spying on everyone and their mother, they've been caught doing so over and over, yes it's out of their immediate mandate but they are a spy agency, and they still work for the US government so no matter how far they stretch their grasp it's still limited by what the executive and judicial system will end up doing with it.

Content providers on the other hand? well they only care about bottom line profits, as long as they can continue to hook in people from infancy to be their stock they'll do it. Tobacco companies used give out cigarettes for free to everything from soldiers to school kids, yeah they also wanted to ensure that their products are great.

Also this always gives me a chuckle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJqf0qYrYvU

The critical difference, in my view, is that Google et al. do not have the authority to incarcerate people.

The NSA and those organization's aren't usually making the products like Google is they are usually contracting it out. It isn't the companies doing the work incarcerating people in either case, it is simply that when the user of the product being sold is the Government they have that power.

These days nope, but agreements like the TTIP actually give countries quite a bit of power that used to be reserved to nation states. I'm not some dystopian future conspiracy nut but many companies out there have more power over what i do on a daily basis than any government organization out there.

Yes the NSA (not directly) can put me in jail, but and that's a big but there still has to be a good enough reason to do it. The NSA isn't some shadow government wanting to rule the world, they did some nasty stuff, some of it is probably illegal and for the rest they've surely stepped out of their boundaries with very loose interpretations of laws and executive orders but even the biggest critic of the NSA can't say they've done it for their own reasons and not in order to ensure the security of the United States. And when people say well what if country X will become a brutal dictatorship, well in that case they can put you in jail on a whim, again this isn't a case for mass surveillance, or for the NSA it's just a simple truth. So while i do see the NSA spying on Americans on US soil a violation of their mandate, i don't see it as some mile stone in the US becoming North Korea or East Germany for that matter.

But back to Google et al, everything i buy, every peace of information i consume, half the people i talk to, how i get from place to place and what i get exposed to in the process, where i am know, and heck even what i type as we speak is being tracked, analyzed and stored not by the NSA but by the 100's of various companies from Google to that brand new hot machine learning add network startup that just won TechCruch Disrupt last week. Yes they can't put me in jail, but the amount of control they can exert on you isn't that far from incarceration when you actually use it in it's broadest term, there are countries with prison systems that don't look like Riker's check out Bastøy Prison for example. ;) If you want to go full on tin foil hat then 1984 describes an incarcerated society, and sorry but if you compare what the NSA to what Google et al. are doing to they the latter is much much closer to a proto 1984 society than the former.

You basically say mass surveillance is (figuratively) "literally Hitler", and you think that's an "unpopular opinion" on HN? Well, have I got some fortunate news for you...

The fact is, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a police department flying an airplane over an area under their jurisdiction with the intent of surveying the area as an intelligence gathering activity.

What's actually absurd is the idea that they shouldn't do this. What the hell might you cite as a reason they shouldn't?

You made the Godwin leap that the GP avoided, and putting words in another's mouth like that is an unfortunate way of polarizing discussion.

They shouldn't fly an airplane over their jurisdiction without an express specific intent (e.g., hot criminal pursuit of an individual or individuals) because "gathering intelligence" is not their purpose. Are they in a warzone? Are their taxpaying funders now somehow their subjugated and subservient peoples? Why patrol the area as such?

"Intelligence" appears nowhere in the Public Laws of Baltimore that set out the Police Department's purpose (starting on pg. 73 of the PDF linked below).


You actually think it's possible to perform police activity as outlined in the Public Laws of Baltimore without executing intelligence operations?

How would you know when Bad Things are happening? Are you recommending they exclusively perform reactive services?

I stand fast by the notion that they shouldn't be performing general "intelligence operations", nor should they be recruiting the FBI to so on their behalf. They should be proactively fighting crime, but that doesn't need to (and legally shouldn't) entail wholesale monitoring of everyone in their jurisdiction (and then some, judging by the range of the drones and the involvement of the FBI). Do you actually think that the Baltimore PD has a cogent sense of probable cause and articuable suspicion for everyone that this device is collecting information on? If not, then this thing has no place being in the sky. This is unnecessary dragnet surveillance so that "boys can play with their toys", not proactive crime fighting with good purpose.

I get where you're coming from, but it's not "unnecessary dragnet surveillance" to fly a drone over a hot zone in a city during a period of riots to monitor the state of the area, nor should the employees of companies who offer such services to these police departments "be ashamed".

What is a "hot zone"? People obstructing traffic and breaking a few windows merits recording the location of every cell phone (basically every person over the age of 10) for an extended period of time? That's textbook "unnecessary dragnet surveillance".

EDIT: How do you separate out:

1. People in the streets participating in marches. (maybe articuable suspicion)

2. People in the streets not participating in marches. (ipso facto no articuable suspicion)

3. People in their homes with their cell phones on. (ipso facto no articuable suspicion)

Do you see no difference between recording the location of every cell phone and taking video from the air of city streets?

I am not sure I understand your question. I do see a difference, and that's exactly what I'm pointing out. Video cameras cannot see into homes and they require their attention to be focused on a particular area. Video cameras' very nature forces them to be used in a more selective fashion. The same cannot be said for these hypothetical Stingray laden drones. Hence, they shouldn't be available for use for general "population control," which is what the use in Baltimore amounts to.

Video cameras no longer need to be aimed, the way you're thinking. Gigapixel camera arrays mentioned in the article make it possible to do wide-area visual surveillance, and storage! So, find a person of interest, and then rewind the last 20 hours of their video.

We need to consider the difference between ephemeral / archived (and searchable), not just public / private.

We're talking about a single organization having access to 24-hour video of every street in the city, with the ability to select and rewind every car and every person. It's fundamentally more powerful than public video snippets.

In the hypothetical situation where these drones were taking recorded video of publicly accessible areas of Baltimore ("the streets", so to speak), would you have a problem with that?

I would have a problem with that, as I still think that the PD should be required to have articuable suspicion to collect information on any and all who may be caught on camera. It's inevitable that some people caught on video camera will not be "potentially" committing a crime. Video cameras might be easier for the legal weasels to defend than the Stingrays (radio waves don't care about walls, and "oh, those people were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and too bad if they are video taped"), but I still find it personally detestable. It's ridiculous for the Baltimore City PD to have the ability to video tape the whole of the Baltimore Metro area's landscape, merely under the guise of some crowds milling about in limited downtown areas. Compare to body-cameras: I have no problem with body-cameras and their potential to capture people in all walks of life. Presumably if a police officer's body camera is going to be focused on you, then the police officer him/herself will also be there, exercising judgment and discretion regarding which people are of interest or are potentially committing a crime. The same can't be said for the use of video cameras on drones.

I bet you find speeding cameras, the ones that only turn on if you're actively breaking a law in front of them, detestable too, don't you?

Instead of smarmily moving the goal posts with these decreasingly relevant questions, why not add some of your own opinions or retorts to the points I've been trying to make?

I don't find speeding cameras detestable, if indeed they are activated by staggered induction/magnetic sensors and are not simply 24/7 video recording cameras.

Nah, I guess I'm just too smarmy to keep going in this conversation.

Ok, no sweat off my back. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Unstated assumption: that these "intelligence operations" are both legally permitted, and that even if they are, that they prevent enough crime to justify their existence.

Not sure either of those things are true.

The cops are already flying their choppers all over Baltimore and back in order to keep track of the protests/rioters.

This is something a bit more insidious than simple crowd/crime spotting for ground units. As the article states, this airplane was likely utilizing a few privacy-smashing technologies such as an aerial Stingray (dirtbox) or an ARGOS camera suite, complete with individual identification and tracking for sustained periods of time.

Basically, imagine that airplane having the ability to identify individuals, then track their movements and actions around the city for the duration of its loiter time. Without a warrant. Without any oversight. See the problem?

Anything the BPD is doing to circumvent warrants is obviously bad and needs to stop. I'm not arguing they should be allowed to do any of that stuff.

What I am saying is there's nothing inherently wrong with arial surveillance, to the point where everyone who works for companies offering such services is "evil".

I think the problem a lot of people have is with the "mass" part, not the "surveillance" part, of mass-surveillance.

Really? That's news to me, I thought the issue primarily revolved around "surveillance".

I haven't heard anyone complaining about surveillance limited in scope to something with demonstrable cause.

It's warrant-less and widespread data gathering and databases (be they license plates, phone records, image/video or what have you) for speculative use that has people concerned, that I've heard.

Mass surveillance of the type where a warrant would be required individually is problematic.

Flying in public airspace taking video of public locations is just another GoPro ad though. Except, apparently, when it's the police taking the video (though in fairness, the Supreme Court has restricted what police can look at and what sensors police can use, even from public airspace).

But, I've got a good solution: Strap the cameras onto the police officers in the plane and call it "body cameras" and all of a sudden it's 100% kosher progressive again, no?

I don't see how you can argue you with a straight (or smug, in your case) face that body cameras are the same as unfiltered, mass, indiscriminate and wholesale video recording of an entire metro area. Body cameras are subject to the visual field of the individual police officer. Body cameras are not wide-lens, 360-degree panoramic, 1080p-4k for each 15-30-60 degree sub-field, that can identify hundreds of people in a given frame. If a police officer's body camera has you in focus, then I would say it is reasonable to assume that they are using their discretion in choosing to interact with you. The same cannot be said for aerial surveillance of the sort in the OP.

(Cue an argument stating that, "Well, the operator of the drone is using their discretion!" Can the operator of the drone put forth a reasonable suspicion for all that they are recording information on?)

> The same cannot be said for aerial surveillance of the sort in the OP

Which is nice, but aerial surveillance of that sort can be done by the local TV news station, or a local resident getting their general aviation training.

Arguing the police should not have extra surveillance powers certainly makes sense, but arguing the police cannot do something that anyone else in the public can do is where you start to lose the plot.

Care to share the Amazon link where I can get me one of these Dirtboxes? Or what about the high-resolution 360 degree cameras plus tracking/ID software that they are presumably using? Oh, you mean that they aren't AGPL licensed? Shucks.

Practicality and availability is a non-negligible component of determining what a member of the public can actually do. Using military grade equipment on the presumably innocent general public, that is ~5+ years ahead of the tech on the market, is a disturbing phenomenon whose significance seems lost on you. No warrants, no articuable suspicion, yet it's OK to use these glorified, classified, and shady war toys on the general public?

I am being a bit disingenuous here: I don't expect all equipment used by government officials to be publicly available. But, if you are going to make the argument that the public can do what the police are doing here, that's equally disingenuous. The public cannot practically buy this equipment from the manufacturers. The public wouldn't be able to get a flight plan approved as quickly (or at all) given the circumstances. Most importantly, these aren't escaped murderers or criminals which would necessitate exigent means (like these glorified war toys): these are general citizens wandering around a downtown area. Police aren't funded by taxpayer dollars so they can be curious about what's going on around town, and in this case, in peoples' homes. Private citizens can do that to the extent permissible by trespass and decency laws. I would hope to see cases taken up the legal ladder that question the PD's actions on these sorts of terms.

> Police aren't funded by taxpayer dollars so they can be curious about what's going on around town

Actually, yes they are. That's what "patrols" are for in the first place. We expect police to be familiar with the communities in which they serve.

You act as if police should police from an ivory tower somewhere, only coming out of their barracks when a 911 dispatcher authorizes them to. But that's actually more dystopian than the behavior you criticize here though (seriously, read about the "proles" in 1984 to see the similarities).

As I've indicated elsewhere in this thread, I am completely fine with both beat patrols and body cameras for reasons I've given elsewhere. (In short: the discretion that a beat cop uses in their daily patrol lends itself better to the legal ways of obtaining information, i.e., the path from casual interaction to suspicion to arrest is an unmuddled one if the police officer is acting appropriately. Body cameras are an extension of these daily interactions, and do not/would not capture more than the minimum amount of ancillary information.)

I agree with you: we expect and want police officers to be familiar with the communities in which they serve. However, a drone flying a mile in the sky over the entire city does nothing to further that familiarity. (To say nothing of their legality.) The familiarity should be person-to-person, socioeconomic group to socioeconomic group. Flying a drone in the sky only serves to stratify the position of the police and ostracize those whom they are obligated to serve. This is part of the larger issue of the militarization of local police departments. See the 1033 program.

I've read 1984 several times, and I fail to see the connection you're drawing between proles and this situation. The only (admittedly superficial) parallel I can draw between this situation is telescreens and the desire for authority to be omnipresent. Or, at a minimum drones help give the aura of of omnipresence, which is generally enough in 1984 to keep proles and outer party alike in line.

EDIT: Thank you for continuing to argue in good faith. I do not mean to be rude or condescending, but I can definitely see myself tending towards that. If so, I apologize. This is actually an interesting discussion despite being far from the original post (in both time and content).

> However, a drone flying a mile in the sky over the entire city does nothing to further that familiarity.

I think this is where we actually start to diverge. Aerial surveillance (whether by drone or by manned aircraft) is an excellent way of directing limited police at actual problems (hopefully before they become crises) during tense situations.

As only one example, being able to see that a given protester group was substantially "imported" from out-of-town might change the appropriate response dynamic significantly from a protest where the protesters are all pouring onto the streets from their own communities. Beat cops should be familiar with the members of the latter group at least, but how can they be familiar with people who come in from out-of-town?

As far as legality, things may change with future rulings but as of this point the question's already been put before the Supreme Court, and the answer is that aerial surveillance is legal -- you just can't use sensors above-and-beyond the types of senses a patrolling cop might have walking around the street.

So perhaps high-zoom lenses would be ruled against at a court level (things like IR have already been struck down), but as a general principle the law is already clear on this (in favor of the police).

> I fail to see the connection you're drawing between proles and this situation

The proles were kept more or less completely alone to rot in their own slums as long as they didn't do anything to draw the attention of the Party. They didn't even have to worry about telescreens, they were simply apart from the government completely for better and for worse, left to fend for themselves as best they could.

In 1984's world that would probably be a better fate than being in the outer Party, but my point is that in the real world one of the responsibilities of functioning governments is to forestall security crises by acting before crises appear. You can't do that without at least paying attention to what's going on outside the police HQ, and during riot situations there's no way to stay aware of what's going on in the community by just sending out a beat cop to go make a round.

If we were talking about a normal day in a normal city then I think I'd agree completely that police shouldn't just be having drones hover around taking livefeeds of downtown (though it would probably be legal barring future statute changes or court rulings). But Baltimore during the riots wasn't a normal city going through just another day, there were literally state military forces walking through the city to help keep order...

> Mass surveillance of the type where a warrant would be required individually is problematic.

Yes, yes it is. It isn't at all clear that the potential benefits of allowing it outweigh the potential costs.

There are limits to jurisdiction, well defined. For example, police cannot enter your home without your permission, unless they have a warrant from a judge. So if the airplane surveillance is being used to collect and act on data that would normally require a warrant, then "jurisdiction" is not sufficient. Even having the ability to do this is problematic in the eyes of many judges and many civilians (it would be the equivalent of saying "Well, we went into the house with a warrant, but we didn't actually search the house..."

So I am citing as a reason they should not do this the traditions and precedents of common law.

I'd go further and say the nature of these new technologies changes what observations should be permitted by law enforcement, with or without a warrant.

While automated license plate readers may be collecting the same information that police officers can from a public vantage point, the scale that they can be used at changes the nature of the information. Suddenly it can be used to track the movements of everyone in a city. While it's arguably the "same" information, it vastly changes the calculus of the public benefit vs privacy of the individual.

We ought to be having a deliberate debate about how to change our laws to reflect the fundamental differences these new technologies bring about. While it may be legal for law enforcement to fly these surveillance missions now, the public has every right to demand that the laws be changed. The police in Baltimore have proven they are incapable of wielding the privileged status they have without systematically oppressing minorities. It makes sense that we roll back some of the surveillance tools they use to prevent dissent.

We ought to be having a deliberate debate about how to change our laws to reflect

Yes, but the powers-that-be are content to let it all happen by default, because most potential outcomes lets them win. If we just shrug and ignore it, they win. If we wait too long to take action, they can argue that the surveillance is understood and that we've grown used to it, and thus under conventional 4th Amendment analysis, there's no more expectation of privacy.

Really, the only way they can lose is by putting the question forward for debate.

If the airplanes are just capturing data that is already in public view (no expectation of privacy), then how is that any different from cameras mounted on buildings? One uses a plane to cover larger ground, and one is fixed. Neither one requires a warrant if it's just recording things that happen out in the open.

I don't disagree with you, but this doesn't seem like a good argument.

> So if the airplane surveillance is being used to collect and act on data that would normally require a warrant, then "jurisdiction" is not sufficient.

Very true, I agree.

However, I don't see any reason why this would be taking place given what we currently know. Arial surveillance has the distinct advantage of safely observing a public area under their jurisdiction.

So yes, they shouldn't avoid warrants by way of arial surveillence (e.g. peeping into back yards), but it's (practically speaking) useful to cover a lot of ground (the same ground they'd already cover) quickly.

My concern isn't aerial monitoring of large crowds. It's picking out individuals from within those crowds and data-mining their activities before they joined the crowd. That's two removes away from the original idea of aerial surveillance. The ACLU is right to be concerned about it.

Depends on what their gear is. If they're only looking at things an average person can already see, but on a large scale? Eh, can't really argue with that. If it's in the public eye, it ain't private.

If they're trying to read the heat coming off of buildings, or laser-micing windows, or otherwise trying to look into areas that are not public, they need to knock it off and get a warrant based on probable cause first.

The average person cannot rewind the cross-town movements of thousands of individuals simultaneously.

Sure they can. Drones can be had for very cheap nowadays.

And again, what you do in public is available for anyone who cares to look.

Then maybe we should be talking about what people (and governments) should do, rather than what they can do. Perhaps you think it's appropriate for the government to record your every step, just in case. I don't.

Perhaps, but that's an open question with a different resolution. It would take nothing short of an act of congress, possibly even constitutional amendments to redefine the current legal doctrine surrounding public and private spaces into what you suggest.

Me, I find it very hard to get worked up over someone recording what I'm doing in public.

Not at all. The right to privacy, while not spelled out explicitly in the Constitution, is recognized by the Supreme Court and the basis of most modern boundaries on what government can and cannot do with regard to surveillance without a warrant. New technology that makes it possible to observe "public" behavior in ways that were previously impossible is still subject to the right to privacy, and courts may well rule it intrusive and unconstitutional.

Consider the case of license-reading cameras. Not intrusive, right? But that data, not being collected under warrant, is more or less public, at least obtainable via FOIA requests. It's already been demonstrated that this data can be used to trace someone's address (and other critical addresses, like work or favorite stores) quickly. So it's not just a matter of government collecting "public" data... it's making it available to anyone, some of whom may not have your best interests at heart.

Now, imagine you have a violent ex who might well kill you if they could find you. I know multiple people in that situation. And government surveillance data, publicly available with a little effort, could find you. Is that okay?

Don't mistake your privilege for society's needs.

> The right to privacy, while not spelled out explicitly in the Constitution, is recognized by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court decision you speak of also makes very clear in its ruling that there is, legally speaking, no such thing as a "general right to privacy". It simply doesn't exist in U.S. jurisprudence. There can be a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in many situations, but that's not quite the same thing.

Of course, courts can rule things unconstitutional and break with prior precedent anyways. But until they do police aerial surveillance is not only "not illegal", but it's been to the Supreme Court already and upheld.

> New technology that makes it possible to observe "public" behavior in ways that were previously impossible is still subject to the right to privacy, and courts may well rule it intrusive and unconstitutional.

Airplanes are simply not "new" technology. Nor are helicopters. Nor are cameras, or radio control. I watched helicopter footage of O.J. fleeing in a white Bronco as a child. None of this is "new".

Those helicopters pursuing O.J. were private helicopters, not subject to jurisdictional restrictions or limitations on their interactions with general citizens. Police Departments have explicit charters that state their purpose and scope. Likely to your chagrin, the words "surveillance" and "intelligence" do not appear in the Baltimore PD's charter. (See below [1]) Furthermore, using airplanes, helicopters, cameras and radio control to pursue someone (note, my specific use of someone) that the police have good reason to believe committed a crime is perfectly fine, and that is the context of the legal doctrines you reference. Do you actually think that the police have articuable suspicion that everyone whose video/cell phone information is being recorded by these surveillance planes has committed a crime? That's to say nothing of the jurisdictional overreach (if not in letter of the law, then in spirit of the law) in asking the FBI to come in and use these toys of war on local citizens who have not committed any federal offenses. The Baltimore PD charter repeatedly makes reference to the "boundaries of the city."

Lastly, you'll notice that the most recent developments in GPS tracking state that warrants are required to use GPS trackers even when police have reasonable suspicion. [2] Since the ostensible reasons for using these drones are to track the movements of individuals, and Stingray devices essentially have that as their sole feature, do you really think it's justified to (quite possibly illegally) track all of these "innocent until proven guilty" citizens using aerial drones? We aren't just talking about a few people who stole a car or are fleeing the scene of a murder. This is wholesale tracking of everyone on the streets -- and possibly in their homes if cell signals are being monitored -- in a 10 mile radius of Inner Harbor.

[1] http://archive.baltimorecity.gov/Portals/0/Charter%20and%20C...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Jones_(2012)#...

What about my backyard? What about the roof of my house? My neighbors can't see all of that area due to one reason or another (fences, trees, lack of windows on their house, etc. etc.) As many others have already noted, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Well, this case en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_v._Riley pertains to your question. Some of the dissenting opinions raise the same questions you do, but there's a reason I had to call them 'dissenting opinions'.

If indeed these drones are using Dirtboxes and are indiscriminately tracking people based on cell phone signatures, then I would posit that the combination of [1] and [2], and ongoing issues like [3], make what law enforcement is doing Baltimore disgustingly illegal and oppressive. Targeted and specific aerial imagery and inspection is a totally different ballpark than what these drones are doing.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyllo_v._United_States

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Jones_(2012)#...

[3] http://motherboard.vice.com/read/court-limits-police-stingra...

Some advice about cellphone OPSEC seems appropriate.

Protesters, or at least key organizers, need to be running apps to detect and block IMSI catchers. And everyone not using them needs to put their phones in Faraday bags.

I don't use smartphones, and so don't know what works best. Searching on "detect IMSI catcher" yields hits for Android, but I see no apps for iOS. AIMSICD looks like a good app. Maybe someone who knows this stuff well can recommend one.

It's easy to make Faraday bags from aluminum foil.[0] To test, you just put the phone in the bag, and call it. If it rings, there are leaks. It's important to turn the phone off before putting it in the Faraday bag. That will prevent rapid battery discharge through high-power attempts to reach towers.

The hardest aspect is getting good electrical contact on all seams, including the access flap. The maximum dimension of any hole in the bag must be small, less than 1-2 cm. A gap at the seam that's 1-2 cm long, even if it's very narrow, will leak (re-radiate) a lot.

The other thing to keep in mind is that aluminum foil gets brittle with bending, and will crack. So you need multiple layers, and the layers must be in electrical contact. Narrow strips of double-stick tape between layers are OK to provide structural stability. But it's a trade-off.

[0] http://www.instructables.com/id/RFID-Secure-Wallet

If you're shutting off the phone. What's the point?

Turning phones "off" may not in fact turn everything off. Even removing batteries may not accomplish that, because there may be backup batteries. At least the baseband radio may remain active. It may be possible to geolocate, and to access the microphone and camera. I say "may" so much because it varies among devices.

I believe certain signals are transmitted from your phone even if it's "off". Removing the battery might stop some of them, but even this supposedly doesn't stop everything.

Do you have a source for this? It seems completely wasteful and against the interests of the manufacture not to sell a piece of shit.

Here's How Others Can Easily Snoop On Your Cell Phone[0]

My phone at your service [1]

[0] http://www.forbes.com/sites/adamtanner/2014/02/18/heres-how-...

[1] https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/techftc/2014/02/my-pho...

Working from the IR surveillance mentioned in the article maybe they are operationalizing ARGUS-IR (http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/I2O/Programs/Autonomous_Real-t... and PBS video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=13BahrdkMU8). It is a sort of "dirtbag" system but for visible and near-visible light.

[Note to self: don't be lit from below when being interviewed on camera, see at min 1:08.]

This was my thought as well.

You deploy a system like this on an aircraft with long loiter times and you have a visual history of the movement of as many individuals or vehicles that it can keep track of. You pair this with a stingray on the ground or air, and you can put names and electronic communications to the people being tracked from above.

You can have a history of where a person has been, who they've been talking to, what they've been saying if it's electronic, and you can get a great picture of what they've been doing at each location, without a warrant, with no way of opting out. This is an Orwellian dragnet. This is a police state.

The NSA-style rebuttal to this is that they're only capturing metadata. This technology suite gives "only" where you've been, who you've talked to, and when you've done those things. Of course it's fascist nonsense, knowing that I was at a bakery at 9 AM leaves very little to the imagination.

I'm having trouble seeing how it's use could be justified for this event when the amount of storage space it requires for an average flight is massive. Also, the cameras aren't so high fidelity as to be able to personally identify people, so I'm not sure how useful it would be in addition to what the police are already doing by looking at security camera footage and other sources.

One of the planes mentioned by the ACLU has done this before:


I don't really see how we can roll back mass wide-area surveillance. It's much too useful a tool. Hell, I'd want it.

I think the best we can do is to get transparency and at best to subject the authorities to the same level of surveillance.

I also believe mass surveillance is inevitable as the cost of cameras falls to nothing. Once there are drones/balloons for $100 that can monitor a square mile, they will be everywhere. And even if the government gets stopped from using it, private businesses and citizens can't be stopped.

Our only hope is to fix the government so people are not put away for acts that shouldn't be crimes. Let the brunt of this technology fall solely on violent criminals and thieves.

I believe this must be the case but who has the resources to deploy something like this? Does Palantir or some other contractor help mine captured images for data? What is done with this data? There is no way BCPD has the resources for this, does the FBI come in and feed them info? for what, arresting rioters?

It's probably to detect a mutation from protest to violence and likely looking for heat sources (fires). I'd certainly hope that in the event protests turn into rioting and fires are lit someone is ready to send in the FD. A destroyed neighborhood does not help the locals and only inconveniences them. Large destruction would serve to disincentivize investment in a community which needs all the investment it can get.

It's unfortunate that while protesters are a good portion locals, most inciters of the rioting are people who don't have to live with the residue of destruction.

This is interesting. I was playing volleyball yesterday in the inner harbor (there is a small volleyball beach between Federal Hill and the water). The fire department set up a bon fire right next to us and at some point a helicopter started doing circles around us, I assume because it spotted a fire. The helicopter is definitely different than the plane that has been flying around though, maybe the plane triggered the helicopter or maybe they have as many eyes in the sky as they can get.

I once spotted a plane going circles over North London.


They mention gigapixel cameras, my (brief) googling couldn't find any evidence that such a thing exists, except for an experimental one at Duke https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldQXHP7TFUE. Although I suppose a gigapixel photo can be made by taking pictures by multiple cameras at the same time just as well. Still, wouldn't that sort of thing be available commercially, at least for the enthusiasts out there?

I also found this detailed post on ARGUS-IS http://ambivalentengineer.blogspot.com/2012/08/argus-is.html

I imagine they're thinking of something like ARGUS, detailed in a great PBS program called "Rise of the Drones"

The Gaia space observatory has a gigapixel camera. It contains 106 CCD sensors. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_%28spacecraft%29

There are gigapixel cameras available for enthusiasts today, but they're based on huge (think 20x30 cm) analog film negatives that are subsequently scanned at 3000+ dpi.

Do blimps have to file flight plans? I lived in DC when they first started testing surveillance blimps there around 2005 or so.

They were completely white with a black box on the bottom. I assumed that they had a similar function to rc-135s with some sort of side radar that can track all vehicles in real time.

Ah, well, here's an answer to one question: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2475827/data-privacy/ma...

The blimps in 2005 looked a bit different - they didn't have such a large obvious radar hump. Also, I'm pretty sure the blimps I saw were not tethered, but hard to say definitively.

I still haven't found any info on filing flight plans though.

When flying under Visual Flight Rules, one is not required to file a flight plan.

>I lived in DC when they first started testing surveillance blimps there around 2005 or so.

Do you mean that they first started testing them in DC ca ~2005? Because they have been around for decades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tethered_Aerostat_Radar_System


>>The first aerostats were assigned to the United States Air Force in December 1980 at Cudjoe Key, Fla. During the 1980s, the U.S. Customs Service operated a network of aerostats to help counter illegal drug trafficking. Their first site was built at High Rock, Grand Bahamas Island, in 1984. The second site was built at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., in 1986. Before 1992, three agencies operated the TARS network: the Air Force, U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Coast Guard. Congress in 1992 transferred management of the system to the Defense Department, with the Air Force as executive agent. Under Air Force management, through contract consolidation and system standardization, the operations and maintenance cost per site was reduced from $6 million in fiscal year 1992 to $3.5 million in 2007.[citation needed] However the Budget Control Act of 2011 slashed funding for the Air Force, which tried to shut down the project.[3] However, the Department of Homeland Security picked up the project and its funding for fiscal year 2014.[4]

edit: PS, the Aerostat/Blimps have been listed on aviation sectionals as well, so no, they don't file flight plans.

The rise of skynet. John Connor needs to stop switching faces every movie and take down these machines.

The government also runs high resolution satellite cameras, and runs the census.

Not just satellite mounted cameras but thermal imagers that can see bodies as they move around inside houses.

> The answer is, these are not your parents' surveillance aircraft.

But your grand-parents'. Nowadays they would use drones.

Have these folks ever been to a major sporting event? Like a MLB all star game, for instance? Same planes are there as well. They just circle around slowly to give security an eye in the sky. If you have an important event or large scale protests, this seems like a logical thing to have.

This article is a little out there and belongs on some conspiracy website. Reads like an Infowars piece.

It's the ACLU. I imagine they're more circumspect than Infowars. If they're concerned, there's good reason to be concerned.

Ehh... it's written by one of their writers, who doesn't seem to have a great grasp of technology in general.

This alone disqualifies him:

> "super-high, gigapixel resolution cameras on planes, which are then used to monitor entire cities"

> "Every moving pedestrian and vehicle can be tracked: the beginning and end everyone’s journeys, and the route taken in between"

> "This gives the authorities the power to press "rewind" on anybody's movements"

Sorry, but he's watched too many bad TV shows and movies. Can you imagine the storage needed to record gigapixel level video that would allow you to do this? The real explanation is in the middle of the story, but it's so benign that it hardly merits any discussion:

> "the flights were apparently carried out by the FBI at the request of local law enforcement, and that they were using infrared cameras of some kind "to monitor movements of people in the vicinity.""

So, you had a large amount of people out at night, spread out in a city, with some acting violently. Not using this type of technology to get a handle on the situation would be negligent. It's not some super secret mass surveillance tech, it's fairly basic cameras that can be used to help police, fire, and medical services respond as necessary. But the ACLU can't fund raise and get clicks off that, so this guy wrapped it in nonsense and now its getting lots of clicks.

I think you'd agree it's quite possible to take high-quality footage and record every frame of it using current technology. What, a few terabytes maybe? Now, single an individual out. Now, data-mine those terabytes of footage. Even without exotic facial recognition or incredible resolutions, you can trace the exact movements of an individual, and of every other person whom they contact.

It's not just a question of resolution. It's a question of software and big data, which is very different. And it's a question the ACLU would be very interested in.

Don't throw out the critical concerns of privacy just because you can nitpick a few holes in the writer's technical understanding. It's bad form, and deliberately misses a valid point. A credible source focused on privacy is concerned enough to write about it. Dismissing it out of hand because the author isn't as much of a nerd as you is not a good argument.

In regards to the gigapixel cameras on uav's:


"DARPA’s frightening ARGUS-IS, a record-setting 1.8 gigapixel sensor array which can observe and record an area half the size of Manhattan. The newest in the family of "wide area persistent surveillance" tools, the system can detect and track moving objects as small as six inches from 20,000 feet in the air."

To be fair, it's not only incredibly expensive to operate but expensive in general. I highly doubt it's been used for any real purpose in the US.

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