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Hackers Just Leaked Nearly Two Terabytes of Police Helicopter Footage

Are we living in a surveillance state?

Hackers Just Leaked Nearly Two Terabytes of Police Helicopter Footage
The Dallas Skyline (left), and police helicopter rotors (right). 1, 2

You might not be wrong to worry about police helicopters flying overhead.

An activist group has leaked nearly two terabytes of police helicopter footage, according to an initial report from Wired. And, incredibly, the videos from two police departments were hacked from unsecured cloud drives.

While the seemingly shameless vulnerability on the part of the police raises concerns about privacy, the deeper question surrounds whether or not we're living in a surveillance state, and what that means for modern living.

Government surveillance is expanding, and anyone can use it

The nearly two terabytes of leaked footage come from an activist group called Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets), although it didn't say who specifically discovered and saved the videos. Additionally, while whistleblowing protocol is a political act, it remains unclear to whom this act was affiliated, or the concrete motivation behind the leak. Co-Founder DDoSecrets Emma Best said the source only said that the leaked footage comes from two police departments, who had left it in unsecured cloud drives. This surveillance footage was recorded by officers of Texas' Dallas Police Department, in addition to Georgia's State Patrol. Much of the footage is conventional law enforcement videos, like aerial views of squad cars pulling other cars onto the shoulder of highways. But most of it is boring, consisting of seemingly pointless surveillance.

Activist groups like DDoSecrets and Fight for the Future argue that this stockpiled footage highlights the lengths law enforcement has gone in expanding the surveillance state in the United States. Placing data from this encroaching institution on unsecured cloud servers is closer to adding insult to injury. It was just sitting there, for anyone to grab. Think about it for a minute: wherever you are in the U.S., if you're living in a city, anything you do outside, and sometimes inside your home, can be monitored by the police. And video footage of anyone involved near police activity is just sitting on the internet, like a global theater. "This is exactly one of the things that people are constantly warned about, especially when it comes to government surveillance and corporate data mining," said Best in the Wired report.

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Surveillance data could make hunter-killer robots more deadly

"Not only is the surveillance itself problematic and worrisome, but the data is not handled in the ideal conditions we're always promised," they added in the report, which received in reply to a request for comment from the Dallas Police Department only that it couldn't speak publicly about how this surveillance data is stored. A spokesperson said all of this helicopter surveillance footage can be accessed upon request via the Open Records Act. Atlanta's State Patrol didn't comment.

Typically, the modern discourse surrounding police surveillance emphasizes the role of drones, and robots like Spot from Boston Dynamics. This makes sense, since these robots could, if sufficiently reprogrammed and redesigned, hunt and murder targeted humans. This hasn't happened, and a MSCHF ("mischief") video implying that Spot, for example, could be used to kill people was vehemently condemned by Boston Dynamics as an impossible outcome for its robots, which are typically tagged for hazardous, non-police work scenarios. But police use of drones has exploded in the last several years, sometimes after acquiring them by questionable means. And that, strictly speaking, isn't great for democracy.

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