This week, a data transparency group published a massive load of police helicopter footage on Friday, Nov. 5, exposing how lousy law enforcement handles sensitive information regarding civilian privacy.
The 1.8 TB of aerial footage was released online by activist group Distributed Denial of Secrets, or the DDoSecrets Wired reported.
According to the outlet, DDoSecrets acquired the footage from an unidentified source, who alleged it was kept on online storage with no security barrier.
“It’s a crystal-clear example of why mass surveillance makes our society less safe, not more safe,” Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future, commented about the footage.
As Wired noted, the footage captured “everything from vistas high overhead to cars lined up at a McDonald’s drive-through, and individuals standing in their yards or on local streets,” underscoring how the authorities did not follow up with their promises to ensure citizen privacy.
The landscape observed in the video appeared to demonstrate Dallas, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia. The Dallas Police Department confirmed that part of the video’s content was theirs, whereas the Atlanta and Georgia law enforcement departments declined it.
Speaking with the outlet, DDoSecrets cofounder Emma Best noted police helicopters could be as pervasive as their drones.
“People think of police helicopters as traffic copters, but they’re so much more than that,” she said.
“They carry technology that lets police watch people who have no idea they’re being watched. It’s important for people to understand what police technology is already capable of and what it could be capable of soon,” Best continued.
According to Wired, the leaked video showed moments of purposeful surveillance usage and amiable public scenes serving no specific purpose.
Privacy groups were more than concerned about what would happen if stalkers or even terrorists decided to exploit the system.
Digital rights group Fight for the Future deputy director Evan Greer noted the usual norms about these vehicles are associated with “when there’s something specific going on, but anecdotally you also hear about them being used for intimidation purposes, like flying really low over neighborhoods where residents are predominantly people of color.”
Greer herself admitted it did not occur to him that the police could be monitoring citizens through their helicopters.
“I haven’t heard specifically about helicopters being used in this way,” Greer said. “It’s totally unsurprising, but it is alarming.”