Urban surveillance in San Diego

I am beta-testing an iOS app that shows ADS-B flight data, and yesterday this showed up:

That is not normal. I did a search for ‘N812FS’ and found this:

The story explains that this plane, a turboprop Pilatus PC12, is owned and flown by FLIR Systems and

…air mission profiles fall into 4 different areas: demonstration, transportation, cargo and engineering. Greg says that approximately 60% of their flights fall into the demonstration category. With a maximum cruise speed of 280 kts, a range of over 1500 nm, and short-field takeoff and landing capabilities of 2650 ft and 1850 ft, respectively, they can take a sensor almost anywhere in the world for show-and-tell to potential customers.

From the product page for the FLIR Ultra 8500 we learn that it is

The world’s number one selling law enforcement thermal imager, the Ultra8500 is a compact, stabilized multi-sensor system designed for Pursuit/Patrol and Surveillance missions. This model is based on the 9″ gimbal design, configured for specific law enforcement missions.

So basically FLIR (the company, that is) is circling for hours over a few neighborhoods, capturing video and showing what it can do for potential clients, presumably the local police department. Here’s a snip from the product sheet:

I have the $320 version that attaches to your phone, and even it is surprisingly capable.

E.g. here I used it to look for leaks in a drain, which is easy if you run hot water to provide contrast:

Or insulation:

And my server closet – that Airport does run hot.

I’d guess that the airborne version could easily spot grow houses, which matters less now that California has legalized pot. More worrying to me is that fact that, due to a mild climate, many local houses were built with no wall insulation at all, thus meaning that the airborne FLIR can literally see through walls. If you add a dirt box to the plane too, it’s scary as hell.

Here’s the thing: In Kyllo v United States, the Supreme Court ruled that FLIR imaging was a search and required a warrant. What’s a company doing? Is it legal? Are they selling imagery or derived data to law enforcement for the disgrace that is ‘parallel construction’?

 

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Computer engineer from San Diego. Obsessed with hardware, software, timekeeping and elegance.

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