Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Privacy Crime

Eyes Over Compton: How Police Spied On a Whole City 190

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the wait'll-it's-drone-enabled dept.
Advocatus Diaboli (1627651) writes with some concerning news from the Atlantic. From the article: "In a secret test of mass surveillance technology, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department sent a civilian aircraft over Compton, California, capturing high-resolution video of everything that happened inside that 10-square-mile municipality. Compton residents weren't told about the spying, which happened in 2012. 'We literally watched all of Compton during the times that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,' Ross McNutt of Persistence Surveillance Systems told the Center for Investigative Reporting, which unearthed and did the first reporting on this important story. The technology he's trying to sell to police departments all over America can stay aloft for up to six hours. Like Google Earth, it enables police to zoom in on certain areas. And like TiVo, it permits them to rewind, so that they can look back and see what happened anywhere they weren't watching in real time."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Eyes Over Compton: How Police Spied On a Whole City

Comments Filter:
  • by number17 (952777) on Monday April 21, 2014 @07:51PM (#46810901)
    I can see how this might work against somebody stealing a car as it is something that can be relatively easy to track. But tracking a person as they go into the subway is difficult or if somebody is wearing a hoodie [independent.ie]. It still wouldn't touch the big players in organized or white collar crime.
    • by Tailhook (98486)

      or if somebody is wearing a hoodie

      That naturally brings to mind Travon/Zimmerman. Had their been infrared aerial surveillance of that scene then better evidence would have been available to the jury about exactly who was closing to engage with whom that night.

      Hoddie or not.

      No, this is not advocacy for surveilling everything, but the "hoddie" argument is weak and poor arguments need to be avoided. The statists will get their way anyhow, but we don't need to make it easy for them.

      • Not with planes flying by... it would be hit or miss whether the plane was filming overhead at the critical moment, a few seconds window at best to determine the aggressor.

        In the end, I suspect, it will still be the black helicopters.

    • by mythosaz (572040)

      The criminal street culture already dresses the same as each other as a means of making identification (eye witness and video) more difficult.

      The company that provided this "service" has sample photos and videos online. It's mostly ants marching over blobs... At the best resolutions, you can tell a car from a mini-van, and a truck from an SUV. Telling one person from another would be impossible. At best, you could follow a bank robber's get-away car.

      No nude sunbathing here.

      http://www.persistentsurveilla [persistent...llance.com]

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        It is easy to identify those ants later if you are the police. Just wait until they pass some CCTV and go get the footage. See what building they came out of, or what car they were in (which was picked up by automatic number-plate recognition).

        • by mythosaz (572040)

          You've got an overly optimistic view of finding them on CCTV footage.

          I know it's just TV, but watch some "First 48" and see the sort of CCTV footage that police have to deal with for most of the crimes they're trying to solve.

    • Consider the fuel costs alone to keep such a system running. Then consider something else that isn't getting funding.
      Is this thing really going to provide much benefit for all the resources required to put into it?
      • by BitZtream (692029)

        The cost is far lower per hour than a single officer walking the beat. Considering a small Cessna burns 6 gallons per hour or so, at roughly $6 a gallon currently thats 36 hours or so in fuel costs ... this thing is going to burn a gallon for 6 hours, or less. Less stringent safety requirements also bring the cost of maintaining the thing down to near that of a motorcycle (lower than a patrol car). Any cop you get to walk around compton will cost far more in hazard pay alone, its a fucking war zone.

        The a

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday April 21, 2014 @07:52PM (#46810909) Journal
    Hopefully, everyone involved with the Sheriff's department will be punished as hard as legally possible and possibly harder; but that seems unlikely to change the fact that 'power we could use' turns into 'power we just did use' with unpleasant regularity, and it's only reasonable to suspect that the cost of this sort of sensors-and-analysis package is only going to continue plummeting.

    I'm sure that the insufferable 'if, hypothetically speaking, this level of surveillance would be legal if carried out by a magical force of zero-cost police officers with perfect memories and no need for sleep, it must be legal if carried out by any means whatsoever!' brigade will be by shortly; but their argument is ahistorical nonsense that ignores the real issue: most of your protection has always been logistical rather than legal. Now we are substantially reducing the logistical barriers and can reasonably expect to further reduce them in the near future. Any protections that you think would be a good idea will soon need to be explicitly legal; because the logistics will be increasingly trivial(possibly even self-financing, if you can sell ads somehow...)
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

      punished for... what? for looking at stuff that is outside in plain view from the sky?

      take out the snowden stuff. forget the nsa for a minute. leave out the drone aspect.

      you are left with cops looking at stuff that is outside. i know i'm supposed to drum up some popular anger right now, but i really just can't.

      would you be mad if a cop in a helicopter was flying around the city at 1000 feet and looking at stuff that is outside? at what level of efficiency of cops looking at ANYTHING cross the line from norm

      • punished for... what? for looking at stuff that is outside in plain view from the sky?

        For conducting mass surveillance of public places, which is absolutely 100% different from someone merely seeing you, and especially so when something as powerful as the government does it. The problem is a combination of them recording footage and doing so for huge areas. I don't think I even need to explain how this is different from using your eyes to look around.

        If you honestly don't see a problem, you need to think a bit harder.

        • by bobbied (2522392)

          punished for... what? for looking at stuff that is outside in plain view from the sky?

          If you honestly don't see a problem, you need to think a bit harder.

          Oh I see a problem, namely the storage space required to STORE all this suspect video for later review.... If they do this much, it's going to take a boat load of storage.

          You cannot seriously have an issue with the collection of such freely available imagery. ANYBODY flying over this area can take pictures, video etc. Is it somehow a problem because the police do it?

          What can the police do these days? Automatic license plate scanning? Red Light cameras? Automated Speed cameras? How about a FLIR camera on

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by CanHasDlY (3618887)

            You cannot seriously have an issue with the collection of such freely available imagery.

            I do. Especially when it's the government doing it. We The People can easily restrict their activities if we choose to do so. The fact that "anybody" can do it doesn't mean we should let the government, with its virtually limitless resources and authority, do so.

            What can the police do these days? Automatic license plate scanning? Red Light cameras? Automated Speed cameras? How about a FLIR camera on a helicopter?

            I think that's all morally wrong. The fact that we allow it means we're not living up to the whole "land of the free and the home of the brave" thing.

            What do you think the limit should be?

            On the government's use of surveillance technology in public places.

            • by mysidia (191772)

              On the government's use of surveillance technology in public places.

              I'll yield to them public places.. maybe... the problem is their recordings don't even exclude private property. How about... no surveillance of any private places or of public spaces that includes incidental coverage of any private space, without prior express written revokable permission from all property owners and any lawful residents (or rental tenants) freely and voluntarily granted with no order, reward, or coercion, or in exces

            • by bobbied (2522392)

              You cannot seriously have an issue with the collection of such freely available imagery.

              What do you think the limit should be?

              On the government's use of surveillance technology in public places.

              Ok, where I agree that is a clear line, I don't agree with where you draw it.

              Personally, I'm OK with automated surveillance in public places, including video, audio, imagery and even automated interpretation of same. But there should be limits to the use of such collections as evidence as follows:

              1. Retention of collected data should be time limited, unless being used as evidence in an specific case.

              2. Once the delete date has been reached, it cannot be used as evidence in any other criminal case that ma

          • ANYBODY flying over this area can take pictures, video etc. Is it somehow a problem because the police do it?

            Actually, yes -- there are limits to the power of public figures because they also have the ability to abuse said power. If you give someone whose mandate is to enforce the law (catch people doing bad things) the ability to surveil public spaces and review every aspect of that space at any time, you're changing the social contract with law enforcement from how it is currently accepted.

            Of course, in reality, this would save money/taxes, resulting in a smaller arrest/fine quota needed, so the smaller police

            • by bobbied (2522392)

              So.... To further refine your position...

              Is it a problem if the images are collected by a private party, but possibly provided to the police?

        • Point me to a law where this is illegal. Police agencies have used helicopters for decades, and the Supreme court has thrown out evidence if there wasn't probably cause to look over a fence. There is some semblance of balance.

          The local ghetto bird flies over our house several times a week on it's way to and fro whatever it's going to and fro from. There is nothing today that doesn't prevent that helicopter from having a camera on it. Oh wait .. it does. It has even shown it's very bright light into our ba

        • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

          ohh i see a problem all right.

          "spying" has come to include all stuff we don't like.

          personally, i think the laws should be clear in that police don't need to look at anything unless a crime has been reported. but that isn't the law. and it isn't the policy in any city I've been to.

          there are CCTV cameras all over cities... but mount one to a plane and its so different?

          right and wrong doesn't come down to degrees. This part here: "especially so when something as powerful as the government does it". So because

          • "spying" has come to include all stuff we don't like.

            The government is definitely spying on you when it has ubiquitous surveillance devices recording as much as possible, even when it happens in public.

            right and wrong doesn't come down to degrees.

            When something is done past a certain degree that it becomes harmful (in my eyes), I consider it wrong. Very simple.

            So because they are good at it, that is a problem?

            Because they have virtually limitless resources and ability to harass, it is a problem. History, with its numerous examples of government abuses, further shows that it is a problem.

            Stop getting wrapped up in what implementation they are using or how efficient they are.

            So, I should stop thinking about anything and mindlessly declare t

          • by N1AK (864906)

            Either police looking at stuff even when no crime has been reported is wrong, or it isn't.

            You make a valid point that the technical method used isn't the important aspect, but then go off on some unrelated tangets. I don't think anyone has said, or implied, that the legality of the thing the police see defines whether seeing it was right or wrong, it's a strawman position that you set up to knock down.

            You imply a camera on a plane is no worse than a camera on a corner. It's as rediculous as saying that f

        • by mythosaz (572040)

          I watched the sample videos.

          http://www.persistentsurveilla... [persistent...llance.com]

          I'm beyond unimpressed.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday April 21, 2014 @08:14PM (#46811109) Journal
        Did you miss this bit?

        "“The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,”[The supervisor of the project at the sheriff's department Sgt. Douglas] Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”

        That is...not exactly... the sort of attitude you want somebody with access to legalized violence to operate under. 'Yeah, we knew people wouldn't like the idea, so we just did it secretly instead. Listening to complaints is a total pain in the ass.' That alone strikes me as reason enough to clean house of everyone who gave it their approval, regardless of whether I thought the project was a good idea or not.
        • by Rich0 (548339)

          This particular case was kept secret, but there is a NOVA episode about something similar being done in a DC suburb. They kept a drone aloft for a month recording literally everything that happened in a small city (well, everything visible from the air). The camera was wide-field high-resolution, so you could crop and zoom any part of the video and get an image comparable to what you might see on a news camera from a helicopter zoomed in. They recorded a whole month, so you could go back and look at what

          • They had (maybe still have) an ARGUS-IS unit puttering around in the vicinity of Quantico, VA for a while, for, um, demonstration purposes only, I'm sure. Now, I suspect that an ARGUS-IS deployment has a price tag that would make the folks at Persistent Surveillance Systems look like a hobby aircraft; but the performance is... impressive.

            I suspect that, aside from basic technological advance, it really doesn't help that the Iraq and Afghanistan markets are winding down a bit, so assorted stuff for huntin
    • by number17 (952777)

      but that seems unlikely to change the fact that 'power we could use' turns into 'power we just did use' with unpleasant regularity

      Their whole job is dealing with people who do crime and ask for forgiveness later. I don't condone what they are doing, but I can see how they could slip in that direction.

      • by NoKaOi (1415755) on Monday April 21, 2014 @08:51PM (#46811439)

        but that seems unlikely to change the fact that 'power we could use' turns into 'power we just did use' with unpleasant regularity

        Their whole job is dealing with people who do crime and ask for forgiveness later. I don't condone what they are doing, but I can see how they could slip in that direction.

        Which is why we have this thing called the United States Constitution, and why that constitution has an amendment (the 4th one, in fact) that deals with this sort of thing. That same constitution also has a concept of separation of powers, and defines what branch of government has what power. Law enforcement (under the executive branch) are only doing half of their job - they're sworn to uphold the law but the are ignoring the highest law, the constitution The judicial branch exists to prevent that, but they don't seem to be very good at doing the part of their job that involves upholding the constitution.

    • by mythosaz (572040)

      Hopefully, everyone involved with the Sheriff's department will be punished as hard as legally possible and possibly harder

      For what? Aerial photography without a license?

    • by AdamThor (995520)

      "most of your protection has always been logistical"

      The Key Point

    • Make note that all that was seen was in public view. Should we have laws that make it illegal to look down from a plane or balloon or whatever? I do think that due to technology being so able to catch people that people had better plan on being far more honest than in the past. And there are upsides to all of this. Eventually the bad guys will realize that they will be quickly caught when they commit crimes. Perhaps we are entering an era in which crime will be impossible.
      • by Capsaicin (412918) *

        Make note that all that was seen was in public view.

        It was?! I don't know Compton, but I would be surprised if there were no private residences with fenced backyards anywhere within the "10-square-mile municipality." That seems unlikely.

      • by N1AK (864906)

        Perhaps we are entering an era in which crime will be impossible.

        Including the most shocking of crimes, political dissent.

        There's an upside to fingerprinting and DNA sampling everyone, making them wear GPS anklets and removing "meddling" oversight of the police as well ;)

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Meh, not to worry, as soon as those dopey cops realise they were spying on themselves more than anyone else and excuses about it not being turned on wont work, they'll drop the idea, especially as most of their criminal activities do take place in public spaces.

  • I believe it was titled "Government Surveillance" or something like that. The two sides debated: Law enforcement said its "good" and they would never abuse this data. Stanford ethicists and the EFF argued that its "bad" and its already being abused by law enforcement's flagrant disregard of the Constitution. Interestingly, the arguments were moot since law enforcement complained that the detail resolution of the images were not good enough to justify the costs in terms of actual prosecutions. In other w
  • TFS said they used an "aircraft", which I guess means "airplane". We better watch out - next thing you know, the sheriff's office will have helicopters and be able to hover, watching someone for a while. With an airplane, they can only watch for a couple minutes before they've flown by.

    • by HiThere (15173)

      Not helicopters. They are too expensive. Quadcopter drones possibly. Or areostats. Or blimps. There are lots of choices, each has its advantages and disadvantages. But a robot eye-in-the-sky doesn't need to be very big or support a lot of weight...or be very expensive.

      I don't like it, but expect it to happen.

      • by Reziac (43301) *

        Doesn't even need to be that. Most public streets have municipal lampposts at convenient intervals, 30+ feet tall and fairly well immune to tampering (being too tall and too slick to climb easily), that can provide an excellent and permanent vantage point at minimal expense... and quite possibly without anyone noticing, if cameras are installed to look like part of the existing streetlight and as part of "routine maintenance".

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      TFS said they used an "aircraft", which I guess means "airplane". We better watch out - next thing you know, the sheriff's office will have helicopters and be able to hover, watching someone for a while. With an airplane, they can only watch for a couple minutes before they've flown by.

      The difference was that in the past they'd have to spend $5-10k and then they can watch one person for a period of an hour or two. Now they can spend $100/day and record everybody in a whole town, without targeting anybody in particular.

      This isn't a camera with a zoom lens. This is a high-resolution wide-field camera, that effectively behaves like it is zoomed in on everybody everywhere at the same time.

  • I'm sorry, but I guess I don't understand why this is any bigger deal than cameras on a street corner. Maybe it's having grown up in Baltimore with a police helicopter constantly overhead that's desensitized me.

    Doesn't everyone just assume that when in public, everything you do could be observed by someone else? Now, if they were looking in people's windows, that would be a bit creepier.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you're in your backyard with a 12 foot private fence, you're not in public but you're visible from the sky. There's also a difference from being temporally observed by someone and having the government watching you.

      You can see into windows from public areas. How is that creepier?

    • by jaa101 (627731)

      This system is going to see plenty of things that aren't "in public", even without peeping in windows. What is your expectation of privacy in your backyard? Could there be a constitutional up-side in the US though? Maybe everyone will be able to have their cases thrown out due to the warrantless surveillance conducted on them prior to their arrest.

      • by NoKaOi (1415755)

        Maybe everyone will be able to have their cases thrown out due to the warrantless surveillance conducted on them prior to their arrest.

        Hahahaha! That's the funniest bit of satire I've read all day! The notion that the judicial branch would do their jobs, hahahaha!!!1!eleven!!

      • by Rinikusu (28164)

        Yeah, I can't wait until 12 year old kids get their own quadcopter "video" drones and can peep into chicks' windows 5 or 6 stories up...

        • by Aighearach (97333)

          He better peep while he can, but the time he's 14 he'll get charged as an adult and have to register as a sex offender for life!

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        The legal issues have already been well explored by the Courts. "But the pilot is remote/robotic" is just like "on the internet," it is not an impressive distinction. The drug was had the Courts already deciding that the cops can fly around and arrest you from whatever is in plain view from above, but they can't deploy technology such as IR (without a warrant) to detect indoor pot growers.

        There is no warrant required in the US for "surveillance," only for "searches." It isn't a "search" unless it can detect

    • Compton also has the Ghetto Bird constantly overhead (most of L.A. does).
      One difference is you can hear it coming, unlike the drone which I am assuming is silent.

      Now, if they were looking in people's windows, that would be a bit creepier.

      Read: "All of Compton", this assumes back/front yards. Peeping into the backyard IMO is almost as bad as peeping into a window.

    • by antdude (79039)

      We're watching you right now. ;)

  • by dbc (135354) on Monday April 21, 2014 @08:50PM (#46811417)

    This seems like a general warrant to me. For civilian aircraft, there are minimum altitudes, and no general expectation of privacy from overhead observation at that distance. But in this case, this is for the purpose of gathering evidence. How is that not a general warrant?

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      Why should we not have a general warrant?
      Isn't everyone a criminal that hasn't been convicted yet?

  • by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:12PM (#46812215)

    I imagine the only thing keeping it from going mainstream is the ability to make sure it doesn't record any pesky illegal/immoral activity by police/upper government officials. Kind of like that license plat reader system that was suspended indefinitely in Boston because a reporter was able to get a severely limited dataset from the system and still find "mistakes" (ignoring a stolen motorcycle that went past the same intersection regularly while using the system primarily to write tickets, ignoring the most dense area for overdue tickets the police employee parking lot, etc). Or like all of those police dash cams that have a tendency to have malfunctions/accidents when they might have caught "misconduct" (Hollywood Florida framing, Michael DeHerra Beating, Mark Byrge Arrest,Anthony Warren beating & the Prince George’s County, Maryland incident where SEVEN dashcams "malfunctioned" at once.)

  • would be so proud....

  • As I get older and older, this world and all its craptacular descent into one big conglomerated surveillance-based government makes me feel more and more disconnected, displeased and dismayed.

    I'm glad I won't have to put up with it for much longer. i suspect the time behind me is longer than the time ahead of me. This is quickly becoming a world i don't want a part of.

  • This would never work in the UK.

  • by TomRC (231027) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @05:00PM (#46818315)

    If we decide not to allow the public to fly drones around peeping into back yards, the same should apply to the police (without a warrant). The limits on casual/easy police surveillance should be pretty much the same as the limits on the public. The police should be no more than citizens that we have authorized to act in our name.

    That said, it may be time to be realistic, that technology is expanding our powers of easy observation beyond historical limits. Create new laws regulating personal and commercial drone camera use, including allowable flight altitudes, linger times, recording and viewing resolutions, etc under various circumstances - with the same standards governing police use without a warrant. Balance new benefits against the loss of a few old privacy benefits. Same goes for things like Google Glass.

    The key is to avoid allowing politicians to carve out any special exceptions/powers exclusively for the police - insist that police powers be based on those of the general public.

    IMO.

The Universe is populated by stable things. -- Richard Dawkins

Working...