It's been just over a year since amateur aviation sleuths first revealed the FBI's secret aerial surveillance of the civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland.
Now, in response to a FOIA request from the ACLU, the Bureau has released more than 18 hours of aerial footage from the Baltimore protests captured by their once-secret spy planes, which regularly fly in circles above major cities and are commonly registered to fake companies.
The cache is likely the most comprehensive collection of aerial surveillance footage ever released by a US law enforcement agency. The videos, which the FBI claims are its “complete” recordings of the Baltimore unrest, cover the period of April 29 through May 3, 2015, when protests and riots erupted following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody under suspicious circumstances. Last month, prosecutors dropped all remaining charges in the case, concluding with no convictions for any of the police officers involved in the incident.
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.
Previous investigations have shown that these surveillance flights are commonplace. The FBI flew their spy planes more than 3,500 times in the last six months of 2015, according to a Buzzfeed News analysis of data collected by the aircraft-tracking site FlightRadar24. The Bureau claims that the planes are only used to track suspects in specific serious crime investigations, but the fact that pilots seems to have the weekends off suggests the surveillance flights are used for quotidian police work.