Lancaster City Council voted unanimously last week to begin near-constant aerial surveillance of its city on May 1. City leaders say the program will allow police to respond almost instantaneously to crime when it happens; opponents say constant surveillance by the government infringes on the the privacy rights of citizens who have done nothing wrong.
As KTLA reports, the surveillance will be done by a piloted Cessna 172 fixed-wing aircraft for 10 hours a day and will cost the city $300 an hour, or about $90,000 a month. The technology, developed by the Lancaster-based Spiral Technology, Inc., includes the use of infrared imaging. "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 Los Angeles Times. Lancaster will be the first city in the nation to use the technology, which has previously only been used by the military, NASA and a few other federal agencies, according to KTLA.
But some residents and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have expressed concern. "I think we have a privacy problem, and I think the city is going to have a lot of lawsuits," resident Ed Galinda told the City Council on Tuesday.
Peter Bibring, senior ACLU attorney said to the Times, "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." In response, the ACLU has filed a California public records request to get further information about the program.
According to the Times, Capt. Bob Jonsen of Lancaster sheriff's station stated that similar surveillance is already used in Los Angeles County. Yet, LA County Aero Bureau Sgt. Jon Brick told The Associated Press, about his helicopters, "They're bouncing from one call to another...responding to things that are actually happening in real time. If we're doing a surveillance, it's for a specific problem. We do not randomly surveil."