On Friday, more than 600 hours, or nearly two terabytes, of footage from Dallas Police Department helicopters and drones were posted on the activist group Distributed Denial of Secrets’ (DDoSecrets) website. DDoSecrets describes itself as a non-profit group of journalists devoted to enabling the free transmission of data in the public interest.
Large portions of the leaked footage show seemingly aimless surveillance, including cars lined up at a McDonald’s drive-through, people in their front yards, standing by their vehicles, and even sunbathing with no knowledge that they are being filmed. Some footage even shows the use of infrared technology to look at people inside buildings with thinner walls.
The activist group states on their website that this footage highlights “the voyeurism inherent in surveillance and how it often focuses on protected first amendment activities and people who have no idea they’re being watched and who’ve done nothing to justify the intrusion of surveillance.”
DDoSecrets cofounder Emma Best told WIRED in a text message interview that her group did not hack the department but received it from an anonymous source who provided no motivation for leaking the files. The source stated the department had the data stored in an unsecured cloud server that was easy to breach.
“This is exactly one of the things that people are constantly warning about, especially when it comes to government surveillance,” Best wrote about the lax security of the files. “Not only is the surveillance itself problematic and worrisome, but the data is not handled in the ideal conditions we’re always promised.”
Senior Corporal Melinda Gutierrez, a Dallas Police spokeswoman, told the Dallas Morning News that an investigation to determine who hacked the aerial surveillance footage is ongoing.
“The department cannot confirm at this time how much video information was breached,” she said. “It is important to note that this video data was not lost, nor is it missing.” She declined to comment further until the investigation was complete.
This incident is not the first time Dallas Police data storage practices have come under scrutiny this year. In August, a Dallas IT employee, who had a history of mishaps, was fired after accidentally deleting more than 8 million police archive photos, videos, audio, and other materials.
In September, a report released by the city’s IT Department stated that the city has no clear rules on storing data. Poor department policy, planning, and oversight were among the issues that led to the files being erased.