The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had a civilian plane fly over Compton, Calif. to shoot video of everything that happened within the predominantly African-American community for a period of time in 2012.
The Center for Investigative Reporting recently told KQED that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department hired Persistent Surveillance Systems, owned by retired Air Force veteran Ross McNutt, to monitor Compton’s streets to track down the person(s) responsible for some necklace thefts (video below).
McNutt's company, which previously set up operations in Afghanistan and Iraq against U.S. enemies, used the spying equipment on American citizens without their knowledge.
“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt told The Center for Investigative Reporting. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”
“Our whole system costs less than the price of a single police helicopter and costs less for an hour to operate than a police helicopter, but at the same time, it watches 10,000 times the area that a police helicopter could watch,” bragged McNutt.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Sgt. Douglas Iketani added, “The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public. 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.”
According to The Atlantic, Sgt. Iketani also stated, "I'm sure that once people find out this experiment went on they might be a little upset, but knowing that we can't see into their bedroom windows, we can't see into their pools, we can't see into their showers. You know, I'm sure they'll be okay with it. With the amount of technology out in today's age, with cameras in ATMs, at every 7/11, at every supermarket, pretty much every light poll, all the license plate cameras, the red light cameras, people have just gotten used to being watched."
Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warns that the government could collect and store face images as it already does with fingerprints.
“Once the nation has a facial recognition database, and once facial recognition capabilities improve to the point that we can identify faces in a crowd, it will become possible for authorities to identify people as they move through society,” Lynch said.
Los Angeles Police Capt. John Romero defended his department's surveillance of innocent citizens and compared cameras used to spy on the public to old-fashioned non-surveillance street lights.
“People thought that this is the government trying to see what we’re doing at night, to spy on us,” claimed Capt. Romero. “And so over time, things shifted, and now if you try to take down street lights in Los Angeles or Boston or anywhere else, people will say 'no.'”