1.8TB of Police Helicopter Surveillance Footage Leaks Online


“This is a crystal clear example of why mass surveillance is making our society unsafe, less secure,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future , in data leak. “Corporations and governments are terrible at protecting the sensitive data they collect.”

Police drones have gained a lot of attention recently, as they represent a new generation of aerial vehicles capable of more covert surveillance and new behavioral variants, including flying. in the interior. In contrast, law enforcement agencies have used helicopters for aerial survey and monitoring for decades. But footage released by DDoSecrets illustrates how effective helicopter-mounted cameras are at capturing extremely sharp and detailed video near the ground. Helicopters can also carry heavier surveillance equipment than what can be attached to basic quadcopters or other types of inexpensive drones.

“People think of police helicopters as traffic copters, but they’re more than that,” DDoSecrets ’Best wrote. “They bring technology that allows the police to keep an eye on people with no idea they’re being watched. It’s important that people understand what police technology can do and what it can do in the near future. Nothing ‘ y known discussions or decisions otherwise. ”

Such widespread use of helicopter surveillance adds to the concerns of privacy advocates about drones. UAVs are cheaper and easier to purchase and operate than helicopters, and can still use multiple sensors.

“Camera and zoom tech are getting cheaper and lighter all the time,” said Matthew Feeney, Project director at the Cato Institute of Emerging Technologies. “We should always consider aerial vehicles such as drones as a platform for other surveillance equipment including cameras, stingrays, thermal imaging, and face recognition software.”

In the case of the leaked video of the helicopter, DDoSecrets ’Best says most of the footage is timed from 2019 and that continuity limits should be a top priority for police departments. Similarly discussions Talks about the need for removal policies when dealing with police body cam footage. It is possible that some of the leaked footage of the helicopter was retained because it was still relevant to an active investigation, but many of the files captured hours in real time and focused on different, seemingly disconnected activity, places, and people.

Privacy advocates have particularly emphasized the stakes of securing aerial police surveillance data because such footage can be valuable in many ways for stalkers, attackers seeking material for blackmail, domestic or foreign terrorist groups, or those conducting spy operations.

Some of the leaked footage in Dallas and Atlanta shows the types of use you can expect from police helicopters: monitoring people in stadium parking lots on game day, for example, or official pulling a car. But other scenes in the footage have a more aimless, roving quality.

“I have yet to hear specifically about helicopters being used in this way,” says Fight for the Future’s Greer. “It’s not surprising, but it’s alarming. At least in an urban setting, you think of police helicopters showing when something specific has happened, but anecdotally you’ve also heard of them being used for intimidation purposes, like flying too low. in neighborhoods where residents are mostly people of color.

In Minneapolis, for example, residents have consistently reported heavy police helicopter traffic at the top since the protests and riots in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd. And even if helicopters are a familiar technology, their use of law enforcement surveillance comes with long -standing privacy concerns. In 2004, a New York Police Department helicopter scoping out an unauthorized night bike ride in Manhattan caught almost four minutes of night vision-enabled footage of the couple having sex on the secluded penthouse terrace.


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