Accessing stored data from Baltimore's experimental panopticon-like aerial surveillance program is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes, and can't be done without a warrant. So said the en banc Fourth Circuit in Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle v. Baltimore Police Department.
Read Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle for a full description of Baltimore's now-abandoned "citywide prolonged surveillance campaign," which captured massive amounts of data in the form of aerial images that could be magnified to a point where people and cars were visible (only as blurred dots and blobs, but trackable nonetheless). Adding to the Big Brother factor, this data could be integrated with other data (license plate readers, gunshot detectors, etc.) to identify those dots and blogs and glean insight into the whole of an individual's movements.
Read Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle as well for the majority's discussion of the disparate impact of large-scale surveillance on vulnerable communities:
Baltimore is a thoroughly surveilled city. See generally J. Cavanaugh Simpson & Ron Cassie, Under Watch, Balt. Mag., Mar. 2021, at 96 (discussing cell site simulators, helicopters, security cameras, police access to residential cameras, police body cameras, and facial recognition software). “[Mass surveillance] touches everyone, but its hand is heaviest in communities already disadvantaged by their poverty, race, religion, ethnicity, and immigration status.” Barton Gellman & Sam Adler-Bell, Century Found., The Disparate Impact of Surveillance 2 (2017). While technology “allow[s] government watchers to remain unobtrusive,” the impact of surveillance “[is] conspicuous in the lives of those least empowered to object.” Id. Because those communities are over-surveilled, they tend to be over-policed, resulting in inflated arrest rates and increased exposure to incidents of police violence.
That is not to express our opposition to innovation in policing or the use of technology to advance public safety. It is only to emphasize that the role of the warrant requirement remains unchanged as new search capabilities arise. . . . The Fourth Amendment must remain a bastion of liberty in a digitizing world.
Finally, read the concurring and dissenting opinions in Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle for a fascinating debate about who gets to speak for "the community"; how Baltimore is both overpoliced and underpoliced; and whether more policing is the answer to violence.
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