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Aerial Surveillance for Auto Insurance?

Will an Eye in the Sky Collect Insurance Data?
October 12, 2016

As the Baltimore Police Department considers whether to continue using a private aerial surveillance program to fight crime, the man who owns the technology is looking to court other clients in private industry. Ross McNutt, president of Persistent Surveillance Systems, said he is considering marketing his company’s ability to collect aerial footage of the city to auto insurance companies, to help them determine which drivers are at fault in accidents and whether claims are valid. McNutt’s cameras have captured between 60 and 70 car accidents per day in recent months, he said. At any given time, the system can record what’s happening over 32 square miles.

The prospect of the footage being sold, however, is raising significant concerns among civil liberties advocates, surveillance law experts and public defenders. They say private clients would be bound by fewer constitutional restrictions—including those against unreasonable searches and seizures—than the Police Department. Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. said he is not aware of any existing insurance laws or regulations that would prevent an insurance carrier from working with McNutt.

“We really have potential for misuse, because what if your political opponent wants to know where you are at all times?” asks Anne McKenna, a visiting assistant professor of law at Pennsylvania State University, who said she would be concerned about a private company selling surveillance footage to another private company. “If this guy gets to do it, why can’t everybody just get a plane and fly over top and sell the data?”

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