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Appeals court to rehear Baltimore aerial surveillance case

December 23, 2020 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday agreed to reconsider its decision to uphold a judge’s ruling allowing Baltimore police to carry out an aerial surveillance pilot program.

A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, sided with the police department last month. But a majority of the full court voted to hear the case again.

The six-month surveillance test ended Oct. 31. But the technology’s effectiveness as a crime-fighting tool continued to be evaluated.

Police last spring began to test whether images captured by wide-angle cameras attached to airplanes could help them investigate murders, nonfatal shootings, armed robberies and carjackings. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the department in April on behalf of area activists to try to prevent the planes from taking off, but a federal judge ruled that the technology does not violate people’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

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The camera-equipped aircraft flew above Baltimore during the day. Software then stitched together photos taken every second to create a continuous visual record of movement across the city. That record was meant to support the street-level cameras, license plate readers and gunfire sound detectors across the city.