Aerial surveillance plan up for public scrutiny

Supporters and opponents of Dayton’s proposed aerial surveillance contract can learn more about the technology and express their opinions at a community meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Dayton City Hall.

While many city leaders will be present, the session is not a City Commission meeting, and no vote on the proposal will take place.

The city has released a draft policy statement on how it would use the airplane cameras, saying they would only be deployed in a handful of circumstances — to disrupt Part I (felony) crime patterns, to assist in weather emergencies or natural disasters, to monitor illegal dumping, to support tactical operations (SWAT, hostage cases), and to monitor major events or large-scale disturbances.

Some privacy and civil rights groups are opposing the surveillance proposal. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has already sent out an “action alert” to its members, urging them to “say no to eyes in the sky.”

And a small group of local citizens has drafted its own proposed policy statement, calling for the surveillance to be used only with a warrant. Joel Pruce, who teaches human rights classes at the University of Dayton, says that group has already met with city officials.

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“An initial concern is that a city with this kind of surveillance program might not be one that I want to live in,” Pruce said. “A second issue that’s important is that there be transparency and accountability in its implementation. Who has access to the data? Can you sell it? Who can see it?”

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl has said his department has “no interest” in tracking any law-abiding activity.

The draft city policy includes several limits on use of the surveillance technology — that it will not be used to track individuals based on race or other demographics, will never be used to track people in a lawful protest or assembly, and “will not be used to invade the privacy of individuals, to look into private areas or areas where the reasonable expectation of privacy exists.”

The proposed contract, with Persistent Surveillance Systems Inc., calls for 120 hours of airborne camera surveillance from a piloted aircraft over one year, at a cost of $120,000.

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