Challenging Surveillance of Historically Disadvantaged Communities
Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle v. Baltimore Police Department, 4th Cir. No. 20-1495. An amicus brief urging the court to rehear a case concerning aerial surveillance in Baltimore and protect Fourth Amendment rights.
On November 27, 2020, the clinic filed an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit on behalf of the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology in support of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a civil rights–focused grassroots think tank in Baltimore. LBS, represented by the ACLU, sued the Baltimore Police Department to stop an aerial surveillance program that can track any person’s public, outdoor movements through 90% of the city. The Fourth Circuit ruled against LBS in a split decision and LBS filed for rehearing en banc. With research and drafting help from clinic students, our fellows wrote a brief supporting their petition.
Taking cues from the holding in Carpenter v. United States, the ACLU had argued that the Baltimore program was a violation of the Fourth Amendment: because the program’s breadth was nearly inescapable and involved the collection of long-term tracking information, the program should be considered a search and require a warrant.
Our brief on behalf of the Center on Privacy & Technology outlined multiple reasons why the Fourth Circuit should rehear the case en banc. We used our unique experience with tech policy to bring novel issues and social impacts of the decision to the court’s attention. First, we noted that surveillance programs, such as Baltimore’s, disproportionately impact communities of color and that the court’s initial decision would encourage the continued expansion of these surveillance technologies. Next, we pointed out that despite the “anonymous” nature of the program, those points of data can easily be combined with other pieces of information to easily de-anonymize people. Finally, in addition to agreeing with LBS’s arguments about Carpenter, our brief argued that the court misapplied the special needs doctrine in its justification of the program.
In June 2021, the Fourth Circuit en banc held that the Baltimore Police Department’s aerial surveillance program violated the Fourth Amendment.