BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Spies in the skies. A new report reveals the staggering scope of government surveillance from the air, including several times during the recent unrest in Baltimore.
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren with the surprising way Big Brother may be watching you.
An Associated Press report reveals the FBI is flying hundreds of video equipped surveillance flights nationwide — alarming privacy advocates.
The spy program first gained attention after revelations the agency kept watch on the Baltimore riots from the sky.
“This has been going on for years,” said Captain Jeff Long, Sky Eye Chopper 13.
WJZ’s Captain Jeff saw the FBI aircraft during the unrest.
“There was another helicopter way above us that we pretty much assumed was FBI,” he said. “We’ve seen their aircraft, so we kind of know what they look like.”
Documents WJZ obtained show the aircraft was registered to a sham company with a fake owner. Yet the government contends: “The FBI’s aviation program is not secret. [Planes] are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”
“With a plane in the air, no target of surveillance can know that they’re a target,” said David Rocah, ACLU.
The ACLU’s David Rocah doesn’t buy the government’s story.
“The number of surveillance flights is absolutely staggering. To say it’s not a secret program — I don’t know what they mean by secret,” he said.
These planes typically fly slowly — about a mile off the ground — and they are equipped with technology that can track your cell phone, even when it’s turned off.
In addition to Baltimore, the planes are flying over D.C. and major cities from coast to coast.
“I don’t think there’s anything illegal about this,” said Vernon Herron, senior policy analyst, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security. “We must balance the rights of our citizens, but we also must protect the safety of our citizens.”
Navigation is becoming trickier for the government, with new demands to know what’s happening to the data Big Brother is continuing to collect.
“That is a scary proposition,” said Rocah.
The Associated Press reports the government has spent millions of dollars every year on the program.