The Department of Homeland Security flew drones equipped with video cameras over the United States–away from border and coastal areas–for 1,726 hours from fiscal 2011 through this April, according to the Government Accountability Office.
, written by Brittany M. Hughes, concludes that aerial drones were indeed flown outside of approved and mandated border patrol zones to in fact spy on American citizens being monitored by the police or FBI. Moreover, “1,726 hours” of flight were logged between “fiscal 2011 through this April” outside of border zones, i.e. over the interior of the U.S..
In a series of briefing slides provided in August to the staffs of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on homeland security (and publicly released this week
), the GAO examined whether DHS’s use of drones complied with U.S. privacy and civil liberty laws.
In the slides, the GAO noted that DHS border patrol drones, which are primarily used to “support border security operations,” were sometimes flown away from the border “in support of other federal, state or local law enforcement activities and for emergency humanitarian efforts.”
“DHS’s review reported that CBP operates UAS in accordance with its authorities, which do not limit use to border and coastal areas,” the GAO reported on briefing slide No. 2. “The location of UAS operations is limited by FAA requirements and CPB policies and procedures.”
These flights included missions to “provide aerial support for local law enforcement activities and investigations,” to agencies including the FBI and multi-agency task forces, and to “provide aerial support for monitoring natural disasters,” the report added on slide No. 11.
On briefing slide No. 27, the GAO quoted the Consolidated Appropriations Act
, which states: “For necessary expenses for the operations, maintenance, and procurement of marine vessels, aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems, and other related equipment of the air and marine program, including salaries and expenses, operational training, and mission-related travel, the operations of which include the following: the interdiction of narcotics and other goods; the provision of support to Federal, State, and local agencies in the enforcement or administration of laws enforced by DHS; and, at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security, the provision of assistance to Federal, State, and local agencies in other law enforcement and emergency humanitarian efforts.”
According to the GAO, CBP has nine drones equipped with a video camera, infrared cameras, radar to detect movement, imaging systems to show terrain and buildings, and radar used to detect images of maritime vessels, the report stated.
The GAO added that the video recorded by drones is stored for a maximum of five years “to use in analysis and intelligence products.”
DHS has customized its Predator drones, originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks that have civil libertarians worried: identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones, government documents show.
The documents provide more details about the surveillance capabilities of the department’s unmanned Predator B drones
, which are primarily used to patrol the United States’ northern and southern borders but have been pressed into service on behalf of a growing number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, the Secret Service, the Texas Rangers, and local police.
Homeland Security’s specifications for its drones, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
, say they “shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not,” meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify “signals interception” technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and “direction finding” technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained a partially redacted copy
of DHS’s requirements for its drone fleet through the Freedom of Information Act and published it this week. CNET unearthed an unredacted copy
of the requirements that provides additional information about the aircraft’s surveillance capabilities.
“I am very concerned that this technology will be used against law-abiding American firearms owners,” says Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation
. “This could violate Fourth Amendment rights as well as Second Amendment rights.”
“The documents clearly evidence that DHS is developing drones with signals interception technology and the capability to identify people on the ground,” says Ginger McCall, director of the Open Government Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center
. “This allows for invasive surveillance, including potential communications surveillance, that could run afoul of federal privacy laws.”
Irony: DHS Releases 2014 Privacy Report:
DHS released the 2014 Privacy Office Annual Report
to Congress. The report describes a joint review conducted with the European Commission regarding the transfer of EU Passenger Name Records to the US. The European Commission found the redress mechanisms were lacking for passengers denied boarding.
The Commission also found that DHS would often review passenger records without a legal reason. The Annual Report describes the sixth Compliance Review of the department’s social media monitoring program.
Did the UN just pass the global Patriot Act?