BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday Baltimore’s controversial aerial surveillance program is unconstitutional.

The ACLU of Maryland, representing a group of Baltimore City activists, argued for the court to block the city police department from using the “AIR” pilot program.

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The Aerial Investigative Research flew a plane over Baltimore for six months. The pilot program ended last fall. In February, the city’s Board of Public Works officially nixed the program.

“The residents of Baltimore were being treated as enemy combatants by their own police department,” David Rocah, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, said. “This was the equivalent of everyone in Baltimore being forced to wear a tracking device every time they left the house.”

The 8-7 decision from the 15-judge court ruled the aerial surveillance violated citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.

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“I understand the thought that, ‘Well, surveilling people will somehow address that,’ but we have to understand the dangers of our privacy being violated in that way,” ACLU co-plaintiff Erricka Bridgeford said. “Often because of the desperation around trying to find resolutions to address violence, you see these kinds of really extreme reactions.”

The Court’s Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote Baltimore is already a “thoroughly surveilled city” and the “AIR” program “enables police to deduce from the whole of individuals’ movements.” The “warrantless operation…violates the Fourth Amendment.”

Former Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis argued in March “just because it’s controversial doesn’t make it unconstitutional.”

Current City Solicitor Jim Shea told WJZ the city is exploring its options, saying, in part, “We’re disappointed in the ruling but, since the program has been discontinued, we are not clear what additional litigation is necessary.”

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In a statement through the ACLU, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle Director of Public Policy Dayvon Love said, in part, “(W)e have always been clear that the aerial surveillance program is not a legitimate or effective means of making our communities safer.

Paul Gessler