The FBI’s so-called “secret spy plane surveillance program” is under scrutiny in a Florida terrorism case, where the defendant has asked a U.S. judge to toss evidence from the bureau’s aerial surveillance activities.
The FBI’s aerial surveillance program was first revealed in June 2015 by the Associated Press, which reported that the bureau maintained a civilian air force through private shell companies. The FBI admitted to the program days later, saying in a statement that “it should come as no surprise that the FBI uses planes to follow terrorists, spies, and serious criminals.”
“Contrary to some recent media reporting, the FBI’s aviation program is not classified. Some of our aircraft are registered covertly because overt registration would put our aircraft and operations at risk of compromise,” the FBI said at the time.
Nevertheless, the existence of the FBI’s program sparked outrage among civil libertarians, who celebrated when U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found in June that a similar program operated by the Baltimore Police Department violated the Fourth Amendment.