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Army Plans To Fly Surveillance Blimps Over Aberdeen Proving Ground

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Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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ABERDEEN, Md. (WJZ)—They can see for hundreds of miles, 24 hours a day. And now military surveillance blimps will be floating above Maryland.

Alex DeMetrick reports the Army calls it a study.

Privacy experts worry the blimps could spy on civilians.

They’re called aerostats, helium blimps tethered to the ground.

You can find Raytheon’s version on the Internet.

It’s a floating surveillance platform designed to see distant threats, such as anti-ship cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft and swarming boats, which can be armed with missiles, suicide bombers or small arms.

And at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Army will test those capabilities, when a pair of the Raytheon blimps is sent up over Harford County later this year.

“It’s just another defense mechanism,” said Vernon Herron.

Herron is an analyst with the University of Maryland’s Health and Homeland Security Center.

“The technology is not designed to collect data. It’s just surveillance,” Herron said.

Already used on the battlefields of the Middle East, the Army says it has no current plans to use high-resolution combat cameras.

But they will radar scan hundreds of miles from Richmond, Va. to Staten Island and most of Maryland.

“That kind of tracking technology raises privacy concerns, and the military wants to test hardware they should not be testing out on the American people,” said David Rocah, ACLU staff attorney.

“The country’s in a position where they have to protect the lives of every American citizen, and this is just another piece of the technology to help us do that,” Herron said.

But privacy advocates worry military surveillance won’t stay military.

“Once the government gets its hands on it, there’s not only the possibility of abuse but the fact of abuse becomes almost inevitable,” Rocah said.

In a statement, the Army says it has no current plans to share the blimps with law enforcement, but declined to rule out its future use.

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