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Update: Eye In the Sky

Monday, September 12, 2016 - 09:31 PM

(Persistent Survelliance Systems)

An update on Ross McNutt and his superpower — he can zoom in on everyday life, then rewind and fast-forward to solve crimes in a shutter-flash. But should he?

In 2004, when casualties in Iraq were rising due to roadside bombs, Ross McNutt and his team came up with an idea. With a small plane and a 44 mega-pixel camera, they figured out how to watch an entire city all at once, all day long. Whenever a bomb detonated, they could zoom onto that spot and then, because this eye in the sky had been there all along, they could scroll back in time and see - literally see - who planted it. After the war, Ross McNutt retired from the Air Force, and brought this technology back home with him. Manoush Zomorodi and Alex Goldmark from the podcast “Note to Self” give us the lowdown on Ross’s unique brand of persistent surveillance, from Juarez, Mexico to Dayton, Ohio. Then, once we realize what we can do, we wonder whether we should.

Produced by Andy Mills. Special thanks to Dan Tucker and George Schulz.

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Alex Goldmark and Manoush Zomorodi


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Comments [93]

Anita from usa

Thanks to ___dr.mack201@gmail. com for bringing my ex lover back,

Jan. 15 2018 11:28 AM
Kim Murphy from Upper Arlington, Ohio

I'm a lawyer and a card-carrying member of the ACLU and I'm very disappointed in this story. I cannot imagine why you did not choose to consult a lawyer before opining on whether or not video imagery of crimes in process, outside, violates the protections afforded by the 4th Amendment.

All gas stations, for example, have cameras now. If a robbery is committed in a gas station, it is possible (probably likely) that people not involved in the robbery will be captured in the video of the crime. Does that make the video inadmissible? Of course not. And in that instance, the faces of those people may be visible, while in the McNutt story they are not, not that it makes any difference.

I was also offended by the annoying privilege of the female host finding the post-911 surveillance "gross." Who talks like that besides sixteen-year-olds? What a telling lack of professionalism.

Of course the visceral reaction to the situation in Juarez was excitement for the technology. Innocent people are suffering. Innocent people are suffering here as well, and your misunderstanding of "search and seizure" means that assistance may be delayed or denied. I hope that it doesn't take a vicious crime in your own family to bestir you to do enough research to learn that you don't know what you are talking about.

I love "Radiolab" but I feel dumber for having listened to this.

Oct. 22 2017 03:28 PM
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Sep. 18 2017 04:17 AM
Samuel Bagnall from Yakima, WA

If you've got nothing to hide, don't be worried.

May. 23 2017 04:51 PM
C.D from NC

Let's not be naive into thinking our government doesn't ALREADY have technologies that invade our "privacy".

I hope this becomes the norm.

Apr. 28 2017 11:17 AM
Patrick from Oregon

This isn't big brother surveillance. This is about stoping murders and car jackings, not spying on your every move. This is an inevitability anyway. No one should be complaining about this. Internet spying is far more invasive -- THAT is the front line of privacy that needs to be fought, not this harmless sky camera.

Apr. 04 2017 01:55 PM
Frank J. Albi from Cincinnati

I agree with the comment Karl made on November 7, 2016.

In addition, I regret that in reporting this story Robert Krulwich lost a measure of his journalistic objectivity by combining this story with his own privacy concerns. Granted it is not necessary for Radiolab to conform to the same standard of objectivity expected in a newscast, but I still think Robert went too far by letting his personal views permeate his reporting of this story.

Feb. 13 2017 05:18 PM
Michel from ca

You walked in, and the sun broke through the clouds. Suddenly, life was worth living, and it became this big adventure. Thank you for being part of my life.
Valentines Day 2017

Jan. 04 2017 06:25 AM
Nate from MA

I just got around to listening to this, and this was an incredibly sloppily done story. Other commenters have done a great job of taking you to task regarding your woefully inadequate interpretation of 4th amendment protections. Collection of meta-data such as a citywide persistent surveillance program does not trigger a "reasonable expectation of privacy" since the camera does not peer into ones home, business, vehicle, papers, or effects. Citizens are not protected from the disclosure of their conduct if it is conducted in plain view on a public street. There are privacy qualms to an extent, however this is basic traffic pattern analysis, and there is no personally identifying data collected during the process.

I'm also mildly shocked that the journalists in this story didn't raise the major issue with this program- clouds. I managed a police aviation unit in Florida for a length of time. Aerial surveillance of any kind was frequently stymied by the weather, and to a lesser extent the demands of an air traffic control system that was trying to separate our aircraft from a major international airport. Surveillance from 10,000 feet in anything but clear, dry weather will always paint an incomplete picture due to cloud buildup. The only solution is to fly at lower altitudes, but this also reduces the size of the photo mosaic to the point where meaningful information is not obtained. Ever wonder why there are no clouds in a Google Earth image? Because they throw the bad pictures away.

Finally, I'm going to editorialize a bit. Every once in awhile a layperson will hear a story about a topic that is their specialty, or at least something of an avocation. When the journalists/hosts do a poor job, or look like they have an axe to grind, it leaves the layperson shaking their head, and wondering what other stories they screwed up. The "trust vacuum" left by these stories allows the "post-fact" news outlets to flourish, and gives their skewed stories intellectual heft. Which, is how you get a human Cheeto elected President.

Simply put, you are (or should be) better than this story. Try harder. We need your A-game more than ever.

Jan. 03 2017 05:34 PM

Seems like this overwhelmingly pro-surveillance discussion came to a dead stop after the election. Interesting.

Dec. 06 2016 06:43 PM

Honestly this has nothing to do with the 4th amendment. These cameras are not able to see inside houses or search people, they just help work out where people are. The only problem I can see with this would be a on case-by-case basis, defense lawyers saying "can you be sure that pixel is the defendant?"

Nov. 07 2016 05:34 AM
Hal O'Brien

So, Jad, you want solid instead of abstract? try this: It all depends on what the meaning of "crime" is, doesn't it?

We have one candidate for a major political party in this country encouraging attendees to his rallies to chant "Lock her up!" without any trials or presentation of evidence whatsoever. What happens if membership in the Democratic Party itself becomes a crime, should he be elected President? At that point, McNutt could track people who attend party meetings back to their homes, and, well, they could get locked up.

I am not exaggerating when I say: Stalin would have *loved* this. Define an opposition, target them, then follow them.

It's been pointed out the events being filmed all take place in public, and the expectation of privacy in public is diminished. That's true. What's different here, though, is the sheer industrialization of the process. That is, prior to McNutt, you had to get police to follow people around. Time consuming and expensive. But now, as outlined in the program, you just roll back in the time machine, without any detectives or street officers involved, and addresses and whereabouts are found. Bam.

Yeah, many of you may be right. You may not be involved in criminal activity, so you may have nothing to worry about.

Until your activities are defined to be criminal.

It's almost like the Golden Rule has some meaning here, doesn't it?

Nov. 05 2016 12:33 AM
Paul Heckbert from Pittsburgh, PA

Aerial surveillance is not a panacea. Ross McNutt will tell you it can solve oodles of crimes, but he has a financial interest in selling his product, of course, so his claims must be regarded skeptically. Just as tracking of cell phones is not a panacea (terrorists learned to change phones), aerial surveillance has big limitations, also: clouds, trees, darkness, shadows, large crowds of people, buildings with many occupants, covered parking garages, subways, buses, people who spend most of their time indoors, camouflage, disguise, decoys - all of these factors limit the usefulness of aerial surveillance.

This technology is analogous to the XKeyscore system that Snowden revealed. XKeyscore and the NSA scoop up records of all emails and web traffic, worldwide, for retrospective search and investigation. The logical extension of this Persistent Surveillance technology is cameras that record all activities outdoors (we’ll get to indoors, later), worldwide, for retrospective search and investigation.

Today’s aerial images may have limited resolution (a pixel might be 12 inches) but wait 10 years and the resolution will be many times better, and we’ll have a more integrated web of cameras (on manned airplanes, drones, telephone poles, cars, people, …) We should start to figure out where we want to draw the line on these threats to privacy NOW.

Oct. 30 2016 06:40 PM
JT from Kula (Maui), Hawaii

There's a bit of tunnel vision here, sacrificing reason in the pursuit of conflict. The 4th Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. Also mentioned is a warrant based on probable cause, issued by a judge or magistrate. What is so difficult about having the police get a warrant before they use the video? There really isn't a problem when the police can't use the video for a fishing expedition. They need probable cause that the video contains evidence of a specific crime, approved by a judge hearing the evidence. The use of this technology fits easily into established 4th Amendment jurisprudence.

Oct. 30 2016 11:48 AM
first time commenter from NJ

This "Minutia" woman is obnoxious with this poor mans name. Stop calling him McNutt in such a disrespectful way. Just because you're unconsciously aware you're an impulsive-driven idiot without substance, and have the guilt associated with this, doesn't mean the planes will "get you." No one cares what you are doing and its an inflated sense of self-importance that fuels your objections to what clearly could help permanently eliminate certain crimes in society.

Your quirky, unlikable idiosyncrasies like wanting to say "nut" on air 10 times will remain your right, and planes will save lives and reduce suffering, so let the species develop.

Oct. 29 2016 01:23 PM
Brian Redman from Lafayette, CO

I am disappointed that this report did not include a discussion of existing court rulings on expectations of and rights to privacy in public spaces. As stated at "In the 1986 case California v. Ciraolo, Dante Ciraolo was convicted of growing marijuana in his backyard after the police, without warrant, used a plane to fly over the fences surrounding his backyard. The court ruled that this was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment because the images were taken from public airspace over his backyard. The same logic was applied again in the 1989 case Florida v. Riley, when a police officer flew a helicopter, without a warrant, over Michael Riley’s greenhouse and spotted marijuana through two panels missing from the roof. Because the roof was not covered, it was established that Riley could have no reasonable expectation of privacy. The public nature of the airspace was a function of the technology of manned flight. The sky became public when we acquired the means to enter it."

The various related legal decisions are often vague and/or contradictory, as indicated by the discussion at "The “reasonable expectation of privacy” test is applied to determine whether the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will protect against certain searches and seizures by government officials. The test was first formulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). The test actually appeared in a concurring opinion by Justice Harlan, who stated the Fourth Amendment covers a search or seizure if (1) a person exhibits an “actual or subjective expectation of privacy” and (2) “the expectation [is] one that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.’”
What constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy? The answer is rather difficult because it involves understanding a litany of Supreme Court decisions in particular cases. There is no particular formula for determining when a reasonable expectation of privacy exists. Therefore, one must look at the specific circumstances of each case in which the Supreme Court rendered a decision and make generalizations and analogies. In Katz, the Supreme Court famously stated, for the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected...In what is known as the plain view doctrine, the Supreme Court has held that “it has long been settled that objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be introduced in evidence” (Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 236 (1968))."

Oct. 27 2016 03:59 PM
Charles Peden from Benbrook TX

This debate has two sides: PRO LAW ENFORCEMENT and PRO CRIMINAL. The government ALREADY has nuclear weapons, but we are supposed to take seriously a half-witted argument against surveillance? If the government is misusing the powerful tools it is given then that is a different debate. But first we will either give law enforcement the tools to do its job or we will give criminals the upper hand. Potential misuse of a tool is never justification to prohibit ethical use of that tool.

Oct. 27 2016 06:01 AM
Listening from No. Virginia from Virginia

As I listened to this podcast today, a childhood friend is frantically searching for his daughter who went hiking in Oregon and has not been seen or heard from in nearly a week. I wonder if this technology has usefulness beyond fighting crime. Could it be used in search and rescue scenarios? My friend's daughter's car was located parked at a trail head. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to track her.

Oct. 22 2016 04:18 PM
Mat from Reading, PA

When MI Republicans created Emergency Managers and gave them the ability to seize control of local and state governments "when necessary" but never defined what "when necessary" was, people said that was a bad idea, and were over-ridden because "It would never really happen." Just such a manager stepped up and seized Flint and proceeded to poison tens of thousands of people in a way that will affect their families for generations.

When GW Bush overrode the US Congress and declared himself legally capable of unilaterally declaring war, Progressives warned that the specific reason that safeguard was in place was to guarantee a rogue President wouldn't embroil us in a conflict that didn't have the US's best interests in mind. Republicans puffed up their chests and said, "That'll never happen, now let's go kill some folks!" Now we're looking at a very real possibility of a President Trump. How are you feeling about your kids of drafting age?

With these two major "it'll never happen" lies and failures right in our faces, how can we even begin to entertain the idea of trusting this power to the hands of our leadership? And what happens if/when the very criminals we're trying to control, hack and exploit the system for themselves?

Oct. 19 2016 02:30 PM
Philip Bennett from Hamden, CT

I agree with Phoo Bear?! with one qualification: if Eye in the Sky sees someone doing something in their enclosed yard or elsewhere on their own property that, to me, is no longer public space, and akin to looking into my private residence, which, duh, is an invasion of privacy. But otherwise, when I leave my house and walk on the public sidewalks or drive on the public byways, I am in public, and observed in public is no invasion of privacy. That is why I support cameras at traffic lights, cameras monitoring speed on highways, etc. I've traveled to countries where both are quite ubiquitous, and folks there are not under the oppressive yoke of Big Brother: things are simply more, not less, civil.
That this issue of public space versus invasion of privacy was not addressed in the original broadcast, as I recall. Too bad. Philip

Oct. 18 2016 01:54 PM

It boils down to two basic issues.

First. The 'eye in the sky' is monitoring public space. You have no right to privacy in public. Anyone can see you. Everything you do is visible to others.

Second. The information gathered by this technology can be of enourmous benefit to public safety... And it WILL be abused.
It probably has been abused -used for purposes other than the intended safety concerns- already.

So the only question that matters is, what do you have to hide?

Oct. 16 2016 08:31 PM
David from Wisconsin

When considered appropriately, this technology represents nothing new, just a refinement of old technologies that have passed constitution muster, refined to the point that they are actually useful to law enforcement. Round the clock cameras both publicly and privately record city streets and highways routinely - and basically the only difference between their images and the eye in the sky are altitude. So, if a 20' tall camera is OK, isn't one mounted on a tower? And if on a tower, must there be a connection to the ground? If so, would a balloon on a cable render the information gathered constitutionally acceptable, because it is tethered? Police have been using helicopters, planes and views from high places to surveil for years, but does the length of surveillance and the scope of the surveillance make it different? Don't officers flying in planes "see" things people would rather be kept private? In the final analysis, just because the eye in the sky gathers more information than previous techniques, does the quantity gathered somehow change the character of information that, by itself, would be totally fair game by other techniques? I believe not. Astonishing results don't result from constitutional violations, rather, from advanced systems that actually stitch together evidence which, given infinite monetary resources, would unquestionably be available to law enforcement, but does so cheaply and easily because of the advancement of technology. That being said, regulation should, as a matter of public acceptance, be passed to calm fears of abuse of this amount of information.

Oct. 16 2016 02:42 PM
Bonnie from Cincinnati, Ohio

I disagree that this technology is solving the problems of terrorism or crime in our lives. We have many technologies, like smartphones, that while fun, useful, and interesting have been ignored for the fact that the minerals they are made of are mined from conflict areas. The connection is that celebrating technology every time we use it to do anything innovative is not carefully considering the loss of civil rights in this or other countries that these technologies bring with them. It also undermines the efforts of people trying to use diplomacy, nonviolence, and community building to stop terrorism, drug cartels, and crime. I'm afraid that while this technology may make us feel safer, in actuality, it is creating situations of "us" and "them" between our neighbors, with each one watching the other to find out if the technology in the sky prosecutes the other, thus confusing the judicial system with an omnipotent being, and breaking down community ties that are longterm solutions to the problems discussed in this episode.

Oct. 15 2016 04:00 PM
davea0511 from Meridian idaho

Oh my gosh people can be so stupid. If you can't tell the difference between searching for someone and searching someone then you're completely clueless.

Oct. 10 2016 11:47 AM
AnonymousDave from Indiana

For those objecting to the use of this technology in a law enforcement context … please consider that this is a "new" technology, and it can in principle be applied by either the Good Guys or the Bad Guys … so how might organized crime use such a technology? Obviously, they could put up their own eye in the sky, and could either develop or murder the developers and steal the software used to record and track people's movements (hopefully, the folks providing this service have considered this and are well-protected as well as well-hidden). If the payoff is sufficient, such things could be done. What advantage might gangs or drug lords obtain? Consider how easy it would make it to perform assassinations – of prosecutors, police, political figures, witnesses, rival gang leaders … the list is endless. Or to monitor theft targets and analyze them for the best times to strike, or potential kidnap opportunities. I'm sure my imagination is woefully inadequate in this regard, but those objecting to the lawful use of such technology ought to consider how it might be unlawfully used, and ponder how such unlawful use could be countered.

New technologies, like ideas in general, CANNOT be suppressed. The challenge is to figure out how to provide checks and balances for the legal use of them, to prevent misuse by overzealous enforcement officers. And also the cheapest way to implement them, as well as ways to provide coverage during rainstorms and other weather events that might prevent normal use.

As for myself, I think that every city that wants such a facility should receive Homeland Defense funding for one. Certainly this would save more lives than the military armament being distributed to any & all places that request it, on the grounds of unjustifiable terrorist fears. And speaking of terrorists, think of how much more rapidly the guys that bombed the Boston Marathon could have been tracked and identified, if a system like this were in use … or any of the massacres where the perps fled the scene.

If technology like this were in widespread use, we could, IMHO, reduce crime by at least an order of magnitude, by removing the perps from the general population ASAP. As I said before, the trick is to establish checks and balances in the use of the data (things like making access to videos used by police public via the internet within some months of their use, or immediately upon conclusion of trials, and of course, both prosecution and defense attorneys would have the same access to the information. But I am not a lawyer or law enforcement agent, so I am probably missing things that are better handled by professionals in this area.

But make no mistake — this is a technology whose advantages will be seen by everyone, to ban it from la enforcement use only means it will be used by criminals and privately, as there is no good way to prevent (or even detect) it's use.

Oct. 08 2016 05:18 PM
Michael Hudgens from Phoenix

Every City in America needs this!

Oct. 08 2016 02:45 PM
John from US

That was barely an update.

Oct. 05 2016 10:53 AM
Juan from California

It makes me wonder if the majority of folks voicing privacy concerns, have ever been on the wrong end of a gun or have had their loved ones killed by thugs (who don't seem to have a moral compass or respect for the law)? I have and I believe that this tool would have been helpful in tracking and capturing the suspects before they did it again. No doubt, the family of the assassinated mexican police officer (noted in the podcast) found some measure of comfort in knowing that their loved one's murderers were apprehended. Finally, like any other tool I understand that it can be used for good or bad. But as mentioned in the bible book of Romans Chapter 13 verses 1-7, as long as you are doing "good", things will go well. It's when you are NOT doing the right things that you start worrying of being caught!

Oct. 02 2016 03:39 PM
David from Wisconsin

In its current state, the potential exists for "dragnet" enforcement that could run into 4th amm. considerations, as happened to warrantless GPS tracking. This could be easily fixed by encrypting the raw images, then SELECTIVELY decrypting portions relevant to actual crime that has been identified by other means, by warrant, if necessary. Where there is a murder or kidnapping at a particular location, no officer would have a problem getting warrant to "search" within 300 feet of the location for 24 hours before and as long as necessary after, at that location. 4th amm. privacy concerns and safety concerns can both be satisfied.

Oct. 02 2016 01:01 PM
Jay from Burlington VT

Excellent series and excellent program (Eye In the Sky). I'm likely in the minority on this topic. This is well worth the costs both financially and personal. What do you have to hide?

Sep. 28 2016 05:40 PM
Michael Verruto from West Palm Beach

This piece was BRILLIANT, welll done and BALANCD journalism...once again!! Bravo. I started out with "HELL NO" and ended up with WNY ARENT WE DOING THIS NOW!!!!!

I am not afraid of the technology - and believe that with multilayered and overlaying controls and checks, this should ABSOLUTELY be employed IMMEDIDIATELY for all major cities.... This is incredible technology, and as the police chief in Charlotte NC said earlier this week, it is additional corroborating evidence which makes any conclusion more reliable and sound.

Abuse(es) are rampant all over...let us not attempt to restrict or suppress technology such as this, (or even WORSE worse to DENY its existence!!) but instead bring it out into the light and begin to manager and cultivate it as a tool for good.

A saw can make a home from a forest in the hands of man; but it can also be used to cut his own or others hands clean off.

We dont ban saws.

Thank you guys for ALWAYS inspiring....

Sep. 28 2016 10:54 AM
Howey from SoCal

Robert and Manoush, quite disappointed in the lapse of journalistic neutrality in this investigative report, but let's call your piece an editorial and move on. I'm disappointed that you can't justify the rationale to sacrifice a slice (not all) of personal privacy for the gain of community safety and justice for your fellow neighbors. Your selfishness is as if you were my next door neighbor and erected a tall privacy wall obstructing my home security camera, and just so happens obscures the identity of a criminal who commits a crime behind your privacy wall. Whether you or I be the victim of the crime, we all get harmed by this selfish preservation of privacy because it allows the criminal more time loose on the streets, doing more damage to your community. Your selfishness demonstrates a lack of trust in the members of your community, which can be said is the root cause of most of the civil turmoil we have currently on the news. One must weigh the distrust of criminals against the distrust of the surveillance system for violating privacy, in order to rationally establish a position/opinion of the eye in the sky program.

As history shows us, your voice of opposition against increasingly more invasive surveillance is a lost cause; people who lived through the advent of CCTV cameras probably had your exact same arguments...and look where we are now. More cameras at Target than a federal building in the 1980s.

Sep. 25 2016 03:37 PM

No Note to Self link!?

Sep. 23 2016 10:20 PM

How does someone called Manouch get make fun of anyone else's name?
I'm through with Radiolab. This isn't journalism. It's a circle jerk.


Sep. 22 2016 08:03 PM
janie from Washington

While I can understand the privacy concerns, we seem as a people to be more concerned with government abuse of surveillance than we are with commercial abuse of surveillance. Where a company can profit, go bankrupt, and have no culpability at all, at least the government is still there. It is a tough trade off, but the benefits are undeniable. The struggle of the users to ensure it's 'okay' is a good one. On the note of bias in the story, the striking thing was that the comments here are not one-sided, but the snippets played at the end of the story were all against. Did they really get no other calls? PS: Love Radiolab, and while it can be a little left leaning, it is still awesome.

Sep. 22 2016 12:35 AM

I frankly don't understand the panic over civil liberties.

These cameras are monitoring PUBLIC SPACES. The 4th amendment is not applicable. In fact, this cameras is actually less intrusive than the thousands already scattered across every major city.

Sep. 21 2016 10:39 PM
Anita from PA

Even to someone with no legal training, the interpretation of the 4th amendment shared on this episode was clearly ridiculous. Obviously the eye in the sky is no different from the cameras on the street or a police officer tailing someone. Cameras would have to see through your clothes or into your house in order to come anywhere near to violating the 4th amendment.

Sep. 21 2016 07:37 PM
Enrique from San Antonio

The only comment I have is that those who live in great communities with little crimes can easily complain about privacy and government over reach. They don't have to worry about being shot or kidnapped by those around them. When you are facing these crimes on a daily basis would you worry about privacy at that point?

Sep. 21 2016 04:21 PM

It appears that Robert Krulwich has become a one issue activist. By only focusing on the 4th amendment he and Mannoush did not give a full review of the technology.
Eye in the Sky does not show detail of the people or vehicles. Therefore there is no invasion of privacy. If there are activity logs and controls put in place to track what the operators and analysts do with the system, then it will be very hard to have abuse of the technology.
I have to agree with so many other posts that the 4th Amendment as written does not give us the right to privacy in a public place. I hope that the US does not go down the path that a number of western European countries have gone in overprotecting individual privacy.
We have to remember that a podcast is not journalism in the original sense. It is more related to columnists and op-ed pieces. It would be so much better if podcast performers did less to bring their personal views into the situation, or tried to do a better balance of the views.

Sep. 20 2016 08:37 AM
julie Shapiro from Seattle

I'm afraid you got a bit sloppy after you read the Fourth Amendment. That protects our "persons, houses, papers and effects". Is this a search of one of those? It doesn't seem like it is a search of a person or a house. If you go to all the trouble of giving us exact wording, then shouldn't you consider what the specific words might mean?

I'm with the earlier commenter who suggested you needed someone with some knowledge of law to help frame the legal question if you were going to discuss constitutionality. It's not nearly as impressionistic as you lead us to think.

Sep. 19 2016 08:49 PM
Wendy from West Orange, NJ

Wondering if the eye in the sky folks had anything to do with the swift capture of the bomb suspect in NJ today....thoughts?

Sep. 19 2016 06:27 PM
Chris Harges

Hi Radio Lab:
I hate to join the pig pile here but I felt I should add in my vote. Krulwich is one of my favorite journalists and I appreciate his personal view color commentary. It's a part of the Radio Lab appeal. However, if his opinion is presented as informed analysis and isn't grounded in fact, you're doing a disservice to your listeners. It's the role of the producer to set a baseline in fact or in expert consensus to help us evaluate the POV of the hosts.

Sep. 19 2016 12:54 PM

Dear Radiolab. I've been a fan of the show since the very beginning. However, I'm deeply disappointed over the quality of journalism in your "Update: Eye in the Sky" podcast, and which posted on Sept. 12th. At the very end you read the Fourth Amendment and actually took the liberty of interpreting it yourself. You should have, though, invited a legal scholar to interpret it for you, because your interpretation was HORRIBLY and GROSSLY incorrect. The protections of the Fourth Am. have already been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it is THEIR interpretation which governs-not yours. In order to correct this bit of shameful journalism, I suggest you begin by researching the phrases: "reasonable expectation of privacy," and "plain view exception." Thank you, and I look forward to hearing your correction. Peace.

Sep. 19 2016 06:44 AM
Will T from New Orleans

Thank you for updating this story. I appreciate the concerns raised over the invasion of privacy and the consequences of unintended use, however, I feel the promise of this technology is too great to not be put to use. I think it'd be more interesting to discuss how it can be used responsibly rather than whether it should be used at all. I don't believe armchair ethics are relevant to families and communities affected by violent crime. Significantly reducing the rate of violent crime and improving public health and the quality of life is relevant.

Sep. 18 2016 11:23 PM
Tim from Uk

Sadly my affection for Radiolab has waned over the past year; impartiality has now evaporated, and your guest narrators grate on me with the force of a thousand suns. Manoush quite neatly serves as an example of how diluted and neutered Radiolab's on-air discussions have become. Her incessant use of "like" distracts me to the point of ending the episode prematurely. This episode - pregnant with very interesting moral quandaries - becomes repulsive because of Manoush's valley girl vocabulary and rollercoaster cadences, and Robert's eunach-like uber liberal stance on surveillance.

The show has now become akin to the experience of sitting in a coffee house in a gentrified area, overhearing a loud, obnoxious liberal arts undergraduate pontificate about safe spaces and trigger warnings.

Quite sad, but there are lots of better podcasts out there now

Sep. 18 2016 11:51 AM
J Peze from NYC

These technologies are already ubiquitous and only becoming more so. Our cell phones and social media feel much more intrusive than these types of surveillance capabilities. Have you ever got a message from Facebook telling you that a friend is near by? Your friend probably got the same notification saying that you were nearby, and it probably showed you a pretty precise indication of your exact location. Many of us have already "opted-in" to ubiquitous monitoring so that we can have free access to social media.

CCTV's are already pervasive, especially in big cities. I listened to the "Eye in the Sky" podcast yesterday on Sept 17 (in NYC), and there was an explosion in Chelsea, and a second explosive device found nearby. I wish NYPD had the eye in the sky capability to go to the tape, zero in on the explosion, walk back second by second (as described in the podcast), and to identify the "pixels" that were the source of planting these devices. I don't think that this solves a lot of low level petty crime, but I think it helps to break up terror groups, crime syndicates, gangs, etc.

Sep. 18 2016 08:50 AM
Samuel Clayton from SLC

Having lived in Buenos Aires, I believe these surveillance systems should be used, so long as police and other government officials are held accountable for what they do with them. There must be transparency. When you do not put criminals in prison society becomes one.

Sep. 17 2016 05:59 PM
markus from old europe

So i read a lot of comments here where us-citizens claim its good to be under 24/7 surveillance, as they have nothing done wrong. Apart from the child-kidnapping issue, where kidnappers will adopt over time new techniques to commit their atrocities by escaping surveillance, there is another point that strikes me as a european. When you only "be good"/"dont be evil" under surveillance, what happens if you are not watched by big brother, say somewhere in the wilderness, ornwhere surveillance hasnt reached out yet? Will you still "be good" from your gut-feeling, like, e.g. jesus/buddha/mohammed/amendments suggest?

Sep. 17 2016 03:37 AM

Apologies to Robert Krulwich, my comment was lame, I appreciate Radiolab and have it enjoyed it for a long time, but I just found this episode so infuriating. There were multiple concrete examples of the life saving potential of this technology, but that is over shadowed by the fact that it makes you "feel weird" or uncomfortable. Exactly how would
this effect average law abiding citizens? You can't get close enough to see someones face!

Sep. 17 2016 12:36 AM

I would happily give up every bit of my privacy if one kidnapped child could be safely found or if one murderer could be brought to justice.

Sep. 16 2016 11:14 PM
Walker Baron

Never has Robert Krulwich's aloofness and naiveté been more nauseating.

Sep. 16 2016 08:23 PM
Zachary from CA

Couple of questions I have.

(1) Your reading of the 4th Amendment butchered almost all legal precedent. The Supreme Court has long, long held that a warrant is not required when people act in plain view, i.e. when acting in public. The use of a warrant applies most strictly inside a person's home or dwelling. There is a less strict requirement for searching automobiles, and other places not considered a dwelling. The search of a person does not refer to their location but physically searching them, such as a Terry Stop. The fact that you literally just read the 4th Amendment and formed an opinion is beyond silly. There as been over 200 years of legal interpretation of the Constitution, as journalists you made find it relevant.
(2) In your framing of the ethical and philisophical issues was incredibly frustrating. Taking a strong stance is only inappropriate when you give the other view point little to no volume. This was the tone of the final 30min of the podcast, which is truly sad because the question could easily be, "are we willing to sacrifice the lives of children and adults in order to protect society from an over reaching government" as much as it is, "do we trust the government with this power?"

Sep. 16 2016 05:11 PM
Eric from Cambridge, MA

I am writing to echo David from Michigan - When an update is made, not noting where the new content begins disadvantages your more faithful/regular listeners. Moreover, it suggests that, rather than creating a new episode, you decided to repackage an old one without informing the listeners. I can't be bothered to search for the new content - is it half of the "new" show? 10 minutes worth??? is it all in one section or is it sprinkled into the previous version???

Sep. 16 2016 03:11 PM
Steve from New Mexico

The problem I have is with the breathtaking level of plagiarism on the part of Ross McNutt, and I hope that Radiolab will do more fact-checking in the future. He is neither the initiator, nor the inventor, nor the perfecter of this technology. He led a team of students, but they did not make the system and were merely participants in a larger activity founded and built by others. He does not share credit with the people who actually made it. Furthermore, his system represents 8 year-old technology and is not competitive with the many other efforts from many companies and organizations in the same area.

Sep. 16 2016 11:40 AM
Daryl from Sydney

Oh my goodness!
You even ended this topic with the question, "what if it used against black people". Good luck America getting out of the quagmire that is your Racial paranoia.

Sep. 16 2016 12:31 AM
Heather from Dayton, Ohio

There is one obvious difference between this type of aerial surveillance and traditional CCTV, this allows unauthorized recording on an individuals private property, not just in public spaces. If I erect a privacy fence around my yard and post trespassing notices, I have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. This violates that right, in the same way as if police were to fly a quadrocopter into your yard. If this makes it impossible to prevent authorities from having direct line of sight onto your property, then there will no longer be a constitutional protection against warrantless search and seizure.

Sep. 15 2016 11:39 PM

What is the difference between prosecutors using footage obtained from surveillance cameras throughout the city and those high above? The episode itself suggests that police could use them in tandem. Could a suspect in a crime say he/she didn't authorize themselves being recorded by survellance cameras up and down the street? This type of footage is already being used by police depts. and courts. This could be a very effective tool against crime and terrorism. It could also be an effective tool in preventing innocent people from being tried and convicted.

At the same time, I'm immediately suspicious of the motives of wealthy "philanthropists" funding this technology to get it kicked started. This county really is run by the 1% and I can see this form of surveillance used to cement their hold on power and ideology.

The bottom line is whether we can trust those that hold the power to use it with integrity when humans are prone to acting out of selfishness and fear.

Sep. 15 2016 10:02 PM
Todd from Michigan

I was dismayed by the predominance of anti-surveillance tone on this episode. Radiolab should understand that when they do an actual news piece, a level of impartiality is needed.

For all those concerned about invasion of privacy issues, go ahead and ask yourself if you would be okay with explaining to the parents of a kidnapped child that we have less of a chance of getting their kid back because society thought it wasn't worth the trade-off.

Furthermore, from a legal perspective there is no difference between a camera surveilling us in public spaces and a police officer doing the same while they are on patrol. We don't keep our police officers locked in the station, only letting them venture out when they have a warrant. We don't throw out eye witness testimony on the grounds that, "It really wasn't fair that they happened to see the crime". The only differences here are those of cost and therefore scale.

Sep. 15 2016 08:35 PM
Ryk from Denver

When I heard this episode the first time around, I was amazed -- it really affected me. It seems like such a simple idea; I'm surprised it hadn't been implemented before. Like many others, I'm not concerned about government's use of such imagery, at least at this point. As many have pointed out, there's no expectation of privacy in public, though I do see the extreme that it could be taken to.

Sep. 15 2016 06:14 PM
rabbitpills from 98072

David from Michigan. You must be really tired.

Sep. 15 2016 05:34 PM
Carlynn from Los Angeles

Manoush and Robert had visceral reactions around use by police of Dr. McNutt's technology. I had a strong visceral counter reaction. Firstly, I would like to pick up on Manoush's chiding herself over thinking that it's OK to use this technology in Cuidad Juarez but not in a US city (because Mexico is having such an enormous crime with cartel violence). I would challenge her to consider that being a victim to crime is borderless, as is the desire for justice. Secondly, I would like to challenge Robert in his concerns around violations to fourth amendment rights, that those are generally interpreted to pertain to one's person, in one's home. The technology is essentially a tracking tool put into use after a person commits a crime. As such it is potentially a huge boon to police.

Having said all that, I get the hosts' concern and I am trying to put aside my reaction that they sounded a tad NIMBY. But, hey, I love the show and I hold you all to a high standard. Thanks for meeting them, most of the time.

Sep. 15 2016 02:54 PM

There is not much of a "reasonable expectation" of privacy on public streets. The street cameras proved that years ago.

Sep. 15 2016 01:11 PM
Sarah from Ohio

I love this particular episode and used it in my English class last year when I taught 1984. We had a nice debate over what students thought about it and if it overreached and became Big Brother or not. I use this quote when we discuss it, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety," Benjamin Franklin. But I also point out if a loved one were kidnapped this very technology could likely find them within hours. Needless to say many of the students find themselves lost in the gray area of wanting to sustain their liberty while securing their safety and as a parent I find myself equally torn with them. That is why this is such a hot topic and a great episode, because you can hear everyone involved in the episode debating these points as well.

I also teach photojournalism and when we go over ethics we discuss that when you go into public you forfeit your rights to some privacy. Hence you can see paparazzi photographing celebrities all over the place. Same for us private individuals, we can be at the park and a photographer could snap our photo because we are in a public place. Hence you can be caught on CCTV. Therefore the argument involving the 4th amendment is irrelevant, you are in public and you can be photographed.

Sep. 15 2016 01:01 PM
Attila from Romania

I "love" how the show just casually mentioned "yeah, we're negotiating with different cities, ..., Moscow, ..." :-(

Sep. 15 2016 02:02 AM
BadDad from Ohio

Against this technology? Against a crime (robbery, kidnapping, murder) involving a loved one (wife, husband, child) being solved within hours? Got any better answeres to solving crimes? Guys, with the right safeguards this is a no brainer.

Thanks for the followup...I'd like to hear more of those.

Sep. 14 2016 07:28 PM

I kind of wish the report were delivered with a more impartial approach. I really dislike how close it becomes to fear mongering at times.

Sep. 14 2016 07:04 PM
Leslie McCormick from Montana

I'm on board with most of the commenters posting here, too. I don't understand how this would violate the 4th Amendment or require a search warrant for an entire city, when in fact the technology allows police to target a very specific address or vehicle based on the eye in the sky surveillance intel. Seems absolutely the opposite of what Robert was suggesting. Are there any legal eagles out there who could shed light on this?

Sep. 14 2016 06:28 PM
Shane from USA

All of this assumes that the people in govt. (i.e., our rulers) are the "good guys" (despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary) and that power-hungry rulers like Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton should have this kind of power. Ross McNutt, no surprise, can't WAIT to get his hands on your tax-dollars. The Juarez example...GOVT. created the problem by creating the Drug War but that little fact is totally left out of the discussion. What really scares me is the sheep-like mentality of folks in the comments section.

Sep. 14 2016 06:12 PM
sug from Kentucky

When you are on the street you are on a place that I and other tax payers own. Yes outside in public[ not your front or back yard] should be on camera.

Sep. 14 2016 05:12 PM

Does the 4th ammendment cover CCTV? Aren't all those pictures obtained without permission?

Sep. 14 2016 05:04 PM
Kev from Canada

Funny that it was through the original episode that the Arnolds found out about the Persistent Surveillance Systems.

Sep. 14 2016 03:37 PM
david from san francisco

Interesting show but I wish it had touched on the question of how the technology abets avoiding political questions and finding just political solutions to one of the nation's problems: why are these cities generating so much crime? Why are they financially unable to address their crime problems? Who, by the way, lives in these high crime areas and why are they there?

Taking the purveyors of these technologies (and their wealthy backers) at face value is tempting, but assumes the problems of crime and political violence that technology is supposed to solve exist in a vacuum independent of history and politics. The technology allows us either to confuse cause and effect or ignore them alltogether. It is a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to maintain the status quo and assumes that crime reduction at any costs is more important than understanding, much less addressing, what incites crime and violence and that crime is never a manifestation of political conflict, injustice or inequality.

Sep. 14 2016 03:16 PM
Kate from Nebraska

I honestly don't see the difference between all the CCTV, cell phone videos, those google glasses, body cams, etc. that record most of our movements now between this eye in the sky. As a society, we have embraced this kind of technology. And an aerial camera doesn't invade my "houses, papers, or affects" does it? I suppose that can be argued. I think if the proper mechanisms were in place to reduce abuse, it could be a great thing.

Sep. 14 2016 11:23 AM
Randy from Indiana

Like many of those commenting on the use of this technology, I am baffled by and Robert's assertion that the plane "eye in the sky" is such an invasion of privacy. He states his shock that it goes against the 4th amendment. I fail to see how this is any different from all the government's cameras on street that already an accepted part of our society. If the eye in the sky technology can help to actually follow events and locate perpetrators, why wouldn't we want to further explore its use? There are many highly successful podcasts available today that point the flaws our law enforcement and judicial systems. The system needs a makeover and there is grassroots momentum building to challenge our legislatures to make changes for improvement. Time after time, the use of advances in technology are key to improving outcomes and getting to the truth. This is a new and seemingly paradigm shifting way of enhancing our overall safety.

Sep. 14 2016 08:16 AM
Nick from Cambridge, UK

The missed comparison with CCTV was a shame - that mass surveillance is perhaps worse imho. And, given that CCTV has not irradiated crime, why would we believe that more surveillance will do it?

Sep. 14 2016 02:31 AM
Janis from DC

I love you guys but you got it wrong this time Robert. I actually went back and listened a second time to be sure that I had not misheard you. Worry about the public, government or police having eyes on you all the time, yes. Different than CCTV, no. We can't stop this technology so let's put good rules around its use. Also don't make fun of a guys last name, McNutt- comments were not cool about his name.
McNutt seemed to be a smart guy trying to help.

Sep. 13 2016 09:16 PM
jader3rd from Monroe, WA

I'm okay with municipalities having this information; I am not okay with the Federal government having this information. I don't know how that line could be enforced, but it would be great if it were possible.
I'm okay with the setup where an organization which is not the police is doing the recording and analysis. That way, there's an auditable paper trail for every request. As long as every request is publicly accounted for, I think this technology is great.

Sep. 13 2016 08:36 PM

I almost canceled my subscription to RL when I heard Robert's spring-return assertion that such surveillance is automatically bad. The benefits obtained by getting habitual criminals and violent offenders off the street at a fraction of the cost and police manpower output outweighs the potential drawbacks by several orders of magnitude. Furthermore, calling this unlawful search is ridiculous - as the only differences between this camera evidence and actual eyewitness reports (which are perfectly usable in court) are the durability, ubiquity and reliability of these eyewitness reports.
Try and envision what good can come of this, rather than taking the ignorant tack you are currently on. Give the police a chance to serve and protect. They are already too handicapped... I also believe that police should be allowed to wear video cameras so that people can SEE what actually happened, rather than hearing unreliable and biased verbal reports from both sides. Bikers use Go-Pros to document accidents when cars crash into them. This is no different. Sheesh.

Sep. 13 2016 08:20 PM
Travis from USA

I was puzzled in the update portion during the fourth amendment discussion how they completely ignored the word "unreasonable." That's the crux of this when it comes to privacy concerns. Is it reasonable to expect not to be seen when in a public space?

Sep. 13 2016 07:44 PM
Mark from Tucson

Based on the podcast it is a fact that this technology will take some criminals off the street. I guess the question I have is if you have a family member that is a victim of a crime, and it potential could have been prevented with this technology, would you still be against this camera system? Hypothetically, with this technology the criminal could have been captured after his third murder rather than after his fifth murder. Would that change your opinion if the life saved was one of your families? So if it is true this can prevent the criminal from committing future crimes, then this technology is saving the life of someone’s family, maybe just not yours. With that logic if you are against this technology, then you are not willing to give up a diminutive portion of privacy (probably much less that what your web browser is capturing) to save someone’s family member.
I have no reservation at all about this type of technology invading my privacy. If someone wants to see that I drove to work, then to Home Depot, then to Costco, then home, then repeat day after day, then good for them. In reality they will have much more interesting (lawless) person to watch than myself.

Sep. 13 2016 06:59 PM
Ryan from Cornell, Ithaca, New York

A bit depressing to hear how radiolab is almost a cheerleader for our illegal wars and acts of aggression. Not even a note of ambivalence...

Sep. 13 2016 06:42 PM
Patrick from Jersey City

I think a lot of people are myopic on just how good surveillance is getting and how important it is to set limitations on what we allow. Once cameras get good enough to identify humans instead of cars do you draw a line? Would you be alright with the government attaching GPS trackers to everyone for safety? Eventually high quality video, recognition software and intelligent algorithms will be able to extrapolate where the vast majority of people are in real time and predict future paths. The camera they used was high end military grade at the time with 44Megapixels, my current Sony A7Rii is 42MP and it's 2005 equivalent was about 8MP. Cameras will get better, the software that allows facebook to recognize your cat will get better, tracking algorithms, intelligent filters, etc. All of these things exist and are getting better every year and at some point we have to draw a line.

Sep. 13 2016 06:09 PM
Paul from Paso Roble

I tend to agree with all of the comments here. I don't trust the government AT ALL and I don't like the idea of being recorded, yet I don't do anything that would warrant me to fear this technology. This technology is not classified any differently than cameras that already exist and that are already recording me. The advantage is that serious crimes and organized crime rings could be greatly reduced. (That is until the criminals figure out ingenious ways to evade the system)

Serious crimes like the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman could be much simpler to solve. What about tracking child abductions in real time? Auto theft rings? Large drug rings? Foreign and domestic terrorists? Serial rapists and killers?

Sep. 13 2016 05:50 PM

I really appreciate this story and how it was presented. However, if you are going to feel uncomfortable with the lack of privacy and the legal implications of using this technology, you can't treat it differently than street level surveillance cameras. Both are capturing images of a large geographic area and may citizens. In fact, there is less privacy with the street level cameras because you can recognize faces and license plate numbers. So it's good to have the debate, but don't treat these two technologies differently.

Sep. 13 2016 02:44 PM
John from New Jersey

Two points. 1) Concerning the 4th amendment and what the founding fathers would say about this whole business, you DO know that the founding fathers made decisions based on what they had available to them...they might have LOVED this system....also, FWIW, they owned slaves and thought it was fitting and proper to do so.
2). The notion that we should throw away what seems to be a super weapon in the war against drugs and crime in general nearly because it makes some people--who obviously have never had any problems due to either of these scourges--makes me think that we have lost all reason. Just what nefarious plot doer Robert see in the offing if we bring some of these systems on line? Seems to me it is nothing more than a report from a witness of a crime....that is likely much more accurate than most witness observations are.
When you are fighting animals: terrorists, kidnappers, rapists murderers, etc,etc. you are IMO nuts! Not to use every tool you can reasonably bring to bear...and this one is reasonable.

Sep. 13 2016 01:18 PM
Robert from PA from Pennsylvania

News report for Robert Krulwich; the 4th Amendment does not apply to anything in the public view.

Sep. 13 2016 11:23 AM
Abhay from New Jersey

In most US cities, the social costs of violent crime outweigh the potential costs on privacy rights (in public spaces) imposed by these new technologies -- mostly on the disadvantaged and children. The price we pay for having 4rth amendment rights in public spaces (a questionable right to begin with) are the lives of 2 young children each day. Too high a price.

I suspect that had the founding fathers anticipated the scale of violent crime in most major cities, they would have thought differently about the 4th amendment, which was a reaction to a 18th century problem. I question the wisdom of suppressing technologies that can save lives at the alter of rules established by 18th citizens.

Sep. 13 2016 10:30 AM
Jean from San Antonio

I think what makes people nervous about this technology is just the potential of abusing it's abilities. This is understandable, but we also need to understand that society has reached a grotesque, inhumane level of criminal activity. And it's inhumane to allow this to continue without using every beneficial resource to stop it. I applaud Ross McNutt and his team for implementing this technology with as much respect possible for privacy while still providing tremendous help in making our cities safer places to live.

Sep. 13 2016 09:52 AM
Steven from Texas

Fourth amendment doesn't apply to public actions. This technology is no different that a city that has a bunch of CV cameras set up. This technology can save lives! That matters a lot more to me than protecting an imagined privacy.

Sep. 13 2016 09:49 AM
dirk from iowa city, IA

does the 4th cover our activities in public view?

Sep. 13 2016 09:13 AM
Sergey from Russia

I live in Moscow, and we have a lot of cameras on streets. Recently I heard a data report, so about 80% of crimes are solved because of cameras and it is done really quickly. I don't feel like my privacy rights are violated.

Sep. 13 2016 09:07 AM
Simone from Southern California

I want to know how people feel about eye in the sky v. England's camera system?

Sep. 13 2016 08:45 AM
David from Michigan

I only listened to the original quite recently. When an update is made, could the site or podcast note where the new content begins? Or could a file be posted containing just the updated material, for those of us who won't listen all the way through again and don't want to take time jumping around tapping with our fingers trying to find it?

Sep. 13 2016 08:08 AM

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