Not content to spy on people using street cameras, the small city of Lancaster, Calif. approved a resolution last week that will allow a crime-fighting spy plane to fly overhead and watch what’s going on below.
The city council voted unanimously last week to allow the surveillance to begin next May.
The Cessna 172 fixed-wing aircraft, equipped with infrared imaging and a video camera, would fly at altitudes between 1,000 to 3,000 feet, up to 10 hours a day, and feed encrypted video footage directly to the Los Angeles County sheriff’s office.
Instead of being deployed only in response to specific incidents or needs — as most police aircraft is used — the plane would be dispatched for general-purpose surveillance, regardless of whether there’s any suspicion of a crime being committed.
When a 911 call comes in, the location of a suspected crime will be relayed to the aircraft, which will then fly to the scene and begin recording, a sheriff’s spokesman told the Los Angeles Times.
The project, dubbed the Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System, or LEAPS, will cost $1.3 million to launch and thereafter cost the city about $90,000 a month to maintain and operate.
The technology, not surprisingly, was developed by a local company, Spiral Technology.
“The camera could spot a home invasion robbery or track unsuspecting criminals. It could note car accidents so patrol cars could get there more quickly,” city officials told the Times.
But Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told the paper that, “People who have done nothing wrong shouldn’t have anything they do in their yards or homes subject to video surveillance from the sky. To the extent that it involves observing things which a typical pilot overhead might not be able to see, it raises serious constitutional questions.”
The Supreme Court has upheld in two different cases that police aerial surveillance of land surrounding a house or property without a warrant does not constitute a search, since anyone flying overhead can observe what is occurring in that space, and therefore the owner or residence of a property under surveillance has no expectation of privacy.
Image courtesy of Lancaster city.