U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- At the 2019 rally for the Second Amendment on the west lawn of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C. about 2,000 freedom activists were listening to speakers orate about the necessity of restoring the Second Amendment. Most attendees noticed a helicopter orbit around the capitol a couple of times, starting around 2:30, as I recall.
Several people thought it might be President Trump having a look at the crowd. I did not think so. The helicopter was too small for Marine 1, the designation for the most commonly used helicopter by the President. The helicopter appears to be a Bell 412EP, designated Eagle 1, by the Park Police.
I snapped a few photographs on about 30X telephoto. When I viewed them later, it became clear the flights were surveillance missions to photograph the crowds. It would be silly and stupid to have the expense and risk of a helicopter flight, only to allow a crew member to observe the crowd, without recording the event.
The two-camera pods visible in the picture are likely permanently installed. The images obtainable from professional-level surveillance gear on helicopters, at the relatively low elevation of the helicopter (rough guess, 2,000 feet), along with the very good visibility, means the digital capture included good, facial recognition level images of most people at the rally. It appears the crew member in the doorway also has a camera in a chest rig, but it is less certain.
As early as 2010, the Park Police were “on the cutting edge” of using aerial surveillance video. From securityinfowatch.com:
Though they may be the oldest uniformed police agency in the nation, the U.S. Park Police are the on the cutting edge when it comes to utilizing video surveillance technology.
The Park Police, in 2011, said they wrote the policy on the video to prevent other agencies from recording or redistributing video that was routinely shared with those agencies.
To deal with potential interagency problems related to this sharing initiative, Mulholland said they wrote into their policy that 1) the video could only be received in an official government facility, 2) the video couldn’t be recorded, 3) the video could not be redistributed, and 4) the video feed may cut.
It stretches credibility that the Park Police would not record the video and distribute it as they deemed necessary. They likely record every public event at the Capitol.
If my little Sony super-zoom camera can make out the face of the crew member in the doorway (5 megapixel), images from a helicopter/aerial photography dedicated surveillance camera may be 3,000 times better.
In 2013, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, demonstrated a drone camera that could capture 1.8 gigapixel images at a rate of 12 per second. What was innovative in 2013 may be commonly used today.
Policies can change.
If the images were publicly available, they could be used to give us an accurate count of the crowd for the event, as well as good images of everyone who looked up at the aircraft.
There is no constitutional right to privacy in a public place. Every time you go out in public, anyone with a camera can take pictures of you without your permission. Simply going out in public is permission.
The same generally applies to public officials going about their public duties. Several different circuits have ruled that taking pictures, video, and audio recording of public officials, in public, is a part of First Amendment rights.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.