Online Sleuth: Surveillance Planes Spied on Baltimore

ACLU wants answers, FBI and Baltimore PD haven't given any yet
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 6, 2015 4:05 PM CDT
Online Sleuth: Surveillance Planes Spied on Baltimore
Screenshot of one Cessna's flight path taken by Pete Cimbolic off the website.   (Twitter/Pete Cimbolic)

(Newser) – The Internet—a powerful tool that allows you to catch up with friends on social media, indulge in online gaming, and figure out that surveillance planes are hovering over your city. That last activity is how one Baltimore aviation aficionado (and ex-ACLU employee) spent last Saturday night, picking up on a Twitter friend's query to uncover an interesting yet disturbing development: what appeared to be two Cessnas equipped with infrared technology flying in "precise formations" over the area in Baltimore that saw the most unrest after the death of Freddie Gray, the Washington Post reports. One plane reportedly showed up on three consecutive nights. The ACLU is now demanding answers about the legality of the planes and how much surveillance they've actually done.

Pete Cimbolic was the guy who put the pieces together after another local, Benjamin Shayne, tweeted under his @ScanBaltimore handle, "Anyone know who has been flying the light plane in circles above the city for the last few nights?" Cimbolic headed to a flight data aggregator and onto the FAA site to discover the plane he was tracking was registered to a company called NG Research, the Post notes; he couldn't get info on the second plane. A Baltimore PD spokesman referred the Post to the FBI on the flight queries; the FBI declined to comment. The only person talking—a government official speaking anonymously—says the police requested the planes from the FBI as "aerial support." An ACLU senior policy analyst tells the Post, "A lot of these technologies sweep very, very broadly. … The public should have a right to know what's going on." (In cheerier Baltimore news: Prince will be playing a "peace" concert there this weekend.)

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