FOI request garners 18hrs of drone spy footage from FBI of Black Lives Matter protests
In a very COINTELPRO-esque context, the ACLU has received more than 18 hours of video from surveillance cameras installed on FBI aircraft that flew over Baltimore in the days after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015. The footage offers a rare insight into the workings of a government surveillance operation targeting protests.
“The cache is likely the most comprehensive collection of aerial surveillance footage ever released by a US law enforcement agency… The footage shows the crowds of protesters captured in a combination of visible light and infrared spectrum video taken by the planes’ wing-mounted FLIR Talon cameras. While individual faces are not clearly visible in the videos, it’s frighteningly easy to imagine how cameras with a slightly improved zoom resolution and face recognition technology could be used to identify protesters in the future. ”
“Records from the Federal Aviation Administration showed that the FBI’s aircraft, which were registered to front companies to conceal their ownership, carried sophisticated camera systems on board, complete with night-vision capabilities.”
The FBI says they’re only using the planes to track specific suspects in “serious crime investigations,” and that “the FBI flew their spy planes more than 3,500 times in the last six months of 2015, according to an analysis of data collected by the aircraft-tracking site FlightRadar24.”
“The FBI has been criticized in the recent past for its actions regarding domestic advocacy groups. A 2010 report by the Department of Justice Inspector General found the FBI opened investigations connected to organizations such as Greenpeace and the Catholic Worker movement that classified possible “trespassing or vandalism” as domestic terrorism cases. The report also found the FBI’s National Press Office “made false and misleading statements” when questioned by the media about documents obtained by public records requests.”