Past, Unpublicized Spy Drone Programs Reveal Surveillance Could Already Be Under Way
March 1, 2013 by Sam Rolley
There could already be a drone conducting surveillance in the skies above your city, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that discuss a series of surveillance drone tests carried out by the U.S. Marshals Service that have gone unreported for more than seven years.
The documents were obtained through an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request filed in October. The request sought records from five Federal agencies — the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the General Services Administration and the Air Force — pertaining to drone funding, capability, surveillance and domestic use.
The USMS provided a heavily redacted document that explained:
USMS Technical Operations Group’s UAV Program provides a highly portable, rapidly deployable overhead collection device that will provide a multi-role surveillance platform to assist in [redacted] detection of targets.
…This developmental program is designed to provide [redacted] in support of TOG [presumably the agency’s Technical Operations Group] investigations and operations. This surveillance solution can be deployed during [multiple redactions] to support ongoing tactical operations.
ACLU reported that while USMS officials claimed to have uncovered 30 pages of drone-related material, only the above information was provided.
ACLU said in a statement: “It is surprising that what seems like a small-scale experiment remained hidden from the public until our FOIA unearthed it. Even more surprising is that seven years after the program was discontinued, the Marshals still refuse to disclose almost any records about it.”
Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation updated its list of authorized drone flight sites throughout the Nation. The list contains more than 20 new entities — including law enforcement agencies, universities and even an Indian tribal agency — that have been authorized for drone flights since the FAA published a list of sites last year.
Some new drone license applicants are:
- The State Department.
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
- Barona Band of Mission Indians Risk Management Office (near San Diego).
- Canyon County Sheriff’s Office (Idaho).
- Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office (Northwest Oregon).
- Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department (North Dakota).
- King County Sheriff’s Office (covering Seattle).
With local law enforcement as well as Federal agencies like USMS seemingly gearing up with spy drones, a number of lawmakers are scrambling to update personal privacy laws to protect American citizens’ 4th Amendment rights.
One bipartisan legislative proposal sponsored earlier this month by Representatives Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) would require law enforcement to prove drone use was based exclusively on criminal wrongdoing. They would also be forced to seek judicial approval and, in many cases, a search warrant before taking to the skies with drones. The bill would also flatly prohibit the use of armed drones.