Florida Cops Shut Down Secret Spy Plane Plan After Backlash By Locals

from the if-it-wasn't-for-those-meddling-journalists... dept

The Miami-Dade Police Department has decided to drop its wide-area surveillance plan in the face of public backlash. The MDPD tried to slip it past residents and the county government by claiming the acquisition of a secret spy plane was too important to be done properly.

Documents submitted by the commission, first reported by New Times last Thursday, showed that MDPD has already applied for a $500,000 Department of Justice grant to begin testing the program. The department claimed the deadline to apply for the grants had allegedly been too pressing to wait to notify the public, and so County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's office applied for the DOJ money without first getting public approval.

A classic case of asking forgiveness rather than permission, coupled with a deliberate attempt to circumvent the part of the process that would have caused the most problems for the MDPD's surveillance plans: the public's comments.

Once the document was posted publicly, the backlash began, led by a number of rights groups including the ACLU and the Defending Rights and Dissent Foundation. The surveillance system sought is repurposed Iraq War tech: a high-powered camera system mounted on an airplane that proponents and opponents both describe as a "DVR for real life." Capable of capturing a 32-square-mile area, the cameras don't provide much in terms of close-up detail, but do allow law enforcement agencies to track people's movements over a several hour period, whether in real-time or by replaying recordings.

As the Miami New Times reports, the MDPD has offered no justification for this expansion of its surveillance powers. Apparently, the new surveillance tech was supposed to sell itself, what with most of the cost being offset by a $500,000 DOJ grant. Just as disturbing is the fact that so few county lawmakers questioned the acquisition, even after being made aware the MDPD had already applied for the grant without running it by them first.

Fortunately, the plan is now dead. The MDPD may still want its eye in the sky, but its top official has decided he won't go against the public's will... for now.

[A]fter New Times broke news of the plan two weeks ago, MDPD Director Juan Perez announced in an email to the American Civil Liberties Union today that he's scrapping the program.

"There is some good news on the horizon for you," Perez told ACLU Florida Director Howard Simon at 10:20 a.m., according to a copy Simon sent New Times. "I am scrapping the project, but would like to get your opinion on the matter."

The ACLU is obviously pleased with this decision, but still hasn't heard from the MDPD director whether this includes trashing its DOJ grant request, or whether this grant money might be still be used to purchase other surveillance gear the public won't know about until it's on the doorstep of approval.

The good news is the public's voice was heard, if a little after the fact. The invaluable reporting by the Miami New Times was instrumental in mobilizing opposition, something good journalism has a tendency to do. The real test of the MDPD's new outlook will be when the next opportunity to buy up surveillance gear with federal grants arrives. Hopefully, it will seek out public comment first, rather than only react when the backlash becomes too much to ignore.

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  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 22 Jun 2017 @ 4:03pm

    Our Motto

    To protect and serv...ooh, shiny!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SaintPeter, 22 Jun 2017 @ 4:21pm

    This is actually a really interesting technology

    I listend to RadioLab do two podcasts about this tech:

    I'm not sure how creepy it actually is. It has some really interesting potential to be able to solve certain types of property crimes. At the price, I suppose, of also undermining privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2017 @ 4:21pm

    Mayor trustworthy

    __"County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's office applied for the DOJ money without first getting public approval."

    So this deal was not "secret" from the Mayor -- an elected representative of the Miami citizens. Also, the police department department works directly for that Mayor.

    If you can't trust your elected government officials-- who can you trust?

    Of course the Miami Mayor and Police do not trust the people of Miami -- they are all seen as actual or potential criminals.

    Thank god citizens can still fly out of Miami Airport without all undergoing intrusive searches of their person & belongings... in blatant violation of the 4th Amendment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2017 @ 5:21pm

    FOIA worthy?

    It might be FOIA-worthy to find out what cities applied for these grants to find out which ones _may_ have slipped some eyes in the sky past their constituents?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 22 Jun 2017 @ 5:27pm

    Remember when cops knew the people in their communities?
    When they could talk to people, get leads, and follow up on them?

    We've replaced methods that worked with the 'cyber'.
    Scoop up all the data and you can find all the suspects.
    It's being done all over the globe, it'll surely work for us.

    We re-purposed military tech so we could combat the public.
    We gave up deescalation, because we don't have time to handle people's problems. It's much more effective to murder them.

    We keep giving them more money to get this military tech, even when the evidence shows its not working. We have to stay vigilant and suspect everyone is a terrorist or out to murder cops. Its a war on cops, so we need to give them better weapons to fight that war against people who are armed with non-white skin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christenson, 23 Jun 2017 @ 12:51pm

    Going Dark

    Here's the cops, going dark again!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Justme, 25 Jun 2017 @ 10:33pm

      Re: Going Dark

      Should have expected it, they usually dim before they go out. And Law Enforcement has been getting dimmer and dimmer!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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