New aerial surveillance gives police an eye in the sky

A new type of aerial surveillance could help police solve crime. But does the system give the government too much power?

There are already surveillance cameras outside homes, businesses and along streets, but a new type of aerial surveillance that's already being used in some U.S. cities could one day be looking at you.

The technology comes from cameras mounted on an airplane that flies around cities and records hundreds of hours of video to better fight crime.

The surveillance cameras will be recording 32 square miles of a city at a time. Those cameras will transmit live images and instantly archive them, allowing police to essentially rewind time.

The company behind the program is Persistent Surveillance Systems, which this week we learned had been aiding Baltimore Police in conducting aerial surveillance over neighborhoods for months.

"I can see the value in it but I can see how people will feel a little frightened, a little squeamish that big brother is constantly watching their activity," said Constable Alan Rosen with Harris County Precinct One. "It's worth piloting. It’s worth having the discussion."

Police agencies across the country have been testing the technology and the company would eventually like to come to Houston.

It's already getting help in the way of a nearly $400,000 donation by local philanthropists.

"As a lawyer, it makes me very nervous because we're tipping our toes into the deep end of the surveillance state," said Tom Nixon, a lawyer and former police officer.

He says part of the Fourth Amendment is everyone's expectation of privacy.

But others disagree with that interpretation, saying people should expect to be watched within reason if they're in the public eye.

"City officials have every right, as well as an incentive, to try and protect the public. So if this is a useful device for them to do that, particularly considering how large Houston is, then they'll look into adopting it here in the future if it works in these other places," said Melissa Hamilton, criminal law scholar at the University of Houston's Law Center.

The president of the surveillance company told said the company is open to lots of community input before coming to Houston to show that they only want to help the city solve crimes.


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