In recent years, surveillance drones have been used in law enforcement across the United States. Privacy advocates are expressing concern. Newly leaked footage of aerial surveillance from Texas's Dallas Police Department, and Georgia's State Patrol shows the sophistication and breadth of footage taken by helicopters.
Distributed Denial Of Secrets, also known as DDoSecrets posted a 1.8-terabyte archive of footage from police helicopters to its website Friday. Emma Best, cofounder of DDoSecrets, says her group does not know the identity or motive for sharing the data. The source stated that the data was stored in an unsecure cloud infrastructure by the two police departments.
DDoSecrets became famous in June 2020 after it published a huge leak of law enforcement data that was stolen by an Anonymous hacker. BlueLeaks was the name of the data. It contained emails, audio and video as well as intelligence documents from over 200 federal, state and local agencies in the US. DDoSecrets was banned from Twitter and Reddit removed the subreddit r/blueleaks. This group, which is essentially a successor of Wikileaks has also caused controversy with leaks of sensitive data taken form far-right platform Gab as well as a trove that was stolen in a ransomware assault on a firm providing gas pipeline services.
WIRED viewed samples of Friday's footage. It shows helicopters operating both during day and night. The footage captures everything, from vistas high above to cars lined up at a McDonald's drive through, to individuals standing in their yards, or on streets. This leak highlights the inherent danger of collecting and keeping sensitive footage that could be compromised.
Emma Best, cofounder of DDoSecrets, said that this is precisely the issue people keep warning about. She spoke to WIRED via text message. The surveillance is problematic and worrying, but data is not being handled in the way we promised.
The majority of the footage leaked appears to have come from Dallas Police Department. Brian Martinez, DPD public information officer, replied to the three leakage screenshots by email, stating that the photos were screenshots of footage from the department's helicopter. He also declined to comment on DPD's data storage practices. This includes how long DPD keeps surveillance video from its helicopters. He wrote that data storage is not something we can discuss due to security precautions. Any person who requests the video via the Open Records Act has access to all video from the helicopter.
The greater Atlanta area appears to have a smaller portion of the data. WIRED was informed by the Atlanta Police Department that the footage is not under its jurisdiction. WIRED's request for comment was not answered by the Georgia State Patrol. GSPs Aviation Division has 15 Helicopters and one Cessna 182 aircraft that are used for search-and-rescue operations. The website lists additional activities such as aerial photography and surveillance.