The AP found that over a 30 day period, the FBI flew aircraft in over 30 cities across 11 states. The flight surveillance was first reported in Baltimore when residents noticed suspicious aircraft overhead during protests over Freddie Gray’s death. In response, the FBI said they occasionally help local police forces with aerial support.
“The FBI's aviation program is not secret," spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement.
Yet Huffington Post notes that “even basic aspects of the program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the Justice Department's inspector general.”
"Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes." Allen then added.
The planes are equipped with cell phone surveillance technology which can identify thousands of people just by the cell phones they carry — even if they are not using them or out in public. Devices known as a “cell-site stimulators” can trick targeted cell phones into revealing identification numbers of the phones’ subscribers.
While FBI officials say that cell phone surveillance is rare, the planes have circled over at least 40,000 residents in a single flight, giving even the least wary folks reason to have cause for concern.
In the increasing debate for greater transparency with government surveillance, this mysterious program adds more fuel to the fire that our privacy rights are continuously violated without restriction or permission.