EFF Lawsuit Uncovers Abuse Of Surveillance Drones; DHS Files Motion To Suppress Further Transparency

from the it's-so-GREAT-that-we-have-to-sue-our-government-so-often-#americandream dept

About a week ago, the EFF obtained documents (via a FOIA lawsuit) detailing usage of CBP's (Customs and Border Protection) fleet of Predator drones. Nothing much has changed since the last time this subject was visited (back in July): the CBP is still acting like a drone lending library, loaning out its drones to everyone, from the FBI and DEA to DPS offices, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and various military entities. What has changed is just how many agencies have been recipients of the CBP's largesse.

First off, there's a "problem" with the DOJ's internal accounting. According to the recent OIG report, DOJ agencies have only used the CBP's drones twice. The list obtained by the EFF shows that DOJ agencies have utilized these drones more than 100 times. Even an internal inspection failed to uncover the breadth of the CBP's drone deployment.

Beyond this misstatement (or whatever the DOJ will claim it is), the CBP's indiscriminate drone loans have become somewhat of a community outreach program.

The list also includes several county sheriff’s departments. However, CBP has refused to release the names of these agencies, arguing in a recent court filing that to do so would disclose secret law enforcement techniques and would somehow “reveal that CBP is aware of the illegal activities taking place in a particular location.” It’s hard to fathom how releasing the name of a county sheriff department—without any other information about the drone flight for that department—would somehow let the criminals in the area know they’re being watched and help them evade detection.
Worst case scenario, criminals would now be aware there's a chance their local sheriff's department might have sporadic access to surveillance drones and govern themselves accordingly. Seems like a long shot to claim that current investigations might be compromised. If the criminals are staying current with EFF and ACLU document liberations, then it's safe to assume they've already adjusted their activities to account for potential drone usage.

But the argument the CBP is pushing isn't really about protecting ongoing investigations. It's about maintaining the opacity the CBP was used to. It doesn't want to talk about its indiscriminate lending and deployment of surveillance drones because this might uncover illegal uses and constitutional violations. This summary judgment motion is the DHS (which oversees the CBP) indicating it's no longer interested in being forced to be transparent -- a tactic that echoes the UK's intelligence agency reps telling The Guardian while observing the forced hard drive destruction, "You've had your debate. There's no need to write more."

The DOJ certainly doesn't want any more info to be liberated by agencies looking after the rights of Americans. Why? Because it has deployed drones for seven years without putting together even the most minimal of privacy policies. It's finally being forced to do so thanks to the highly-critical OIG report, but it comes roughly seven years too late.

The EFF has expressed the hope that the DOJ will craft policies "with some meat on them," but early responses from various agencies indicate that they're fine with minimal guidance and oversight and point to existing rules governing manned surveillance flights as being more than adequate. According to these officials, there's no "practical difference" between the two. But that's completely wrong.
“The main difference is that UAS will drive down the cost of aerial surveillance quite radically, as well as permit smaller and more invasive and longer flying, or even persistent, aerial platforms for surveillance,” Peter Asaro, a drone expert and professor of media studies at the New School, told Ars. “The implications of these technological shifts are that such surveillance can be done much more readily and may even become ubiquitous. This has an obvious and definite impact on privacy, whether that surveillance is being conducted by police forces and the Department of Justice, or whether it is being conducted by private citizens and companies.”
Even the OIG calls out the DOJ for treating the two as interchangeable:
The OIG recognized what EFF has been saying all along—that the advanced technological capabilities of drones, their low operational costs as compared to manned aircraft, and their ability to conduct “pervasive tracking of an individual’s movements” whether on “public or private property “ raise “unique concerns about privacy and the collection of evidence.”
The government is currently fighting to keep its redactions intact, all the while showing it clearly can't be trusted to responsibly deploy the technology under its command.







Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Michael, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 9:56am

    to do so would disclose secret law enforcement techniques

    When did the US government become the kind of nazi regime that encouraged "secret law enforcement techniques"?

     

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    Michael Donnelly (profile), Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 10:16am

    Govern themselves accordingly. Zing.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 10:20am

    o do so would disclose secret law enforcement techniques

    Translation, we do not wish to admit we have been ignoring the law and all guidelines.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 10:36am

    The government is currently fighting to keep its redactions intact, all the while showing it clearly can't be trusted to responsibly deploy the technology under its command.

    Govt is made of humans. Humans are prone to abuse when given power over others. Like diapers they will sooner or later get dirty. With very few exceptions (and I honestly wouldn't include myself among them).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 11:25am

    dont you just love it? as soon as a modicum of truth starts to get out, the service wants to shut tighter than a virgins legs!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 12:24pm

    "Nope and Estrange"

    "The DOJ certainly doesn't want any more info to be liberated by agencies looking after the rights of Americans."

    DHS = Obama

    DOJ = Obama

    All the (I)'s, myself included, need to call for ALL positions in Govt to be held equally accountable under the Constitution.

    We all need to call out the Lefty Media that REFUSES to report stories like this.

     

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      Rapnel (profile), Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 3:27pm

      Re: "Nope and Estrange"

      Yes, the executive branch is completely rogue, imho. (DHS, DOJ, DOD, FBI, CIA, DEA, CBP - all armed and extremely dangerous. There are no more "good guys" when you have this many secrets and twist that many laws and criminalize so many things.)

      "Lefty Media" makes absolutely no real sense though. It's corporate media.

      If you're still thinking in terms of left, right, conservative or liberal through all of this then you're a fool for being distracted by it. Congress thrives on corporate media - it breeds a decision making process based on a malaise of public awareness fostered by MediaCorp.

      I, on occasion, sit down and watch the news while keeping an old man company or can hear the news at his required volume of TOO DAMN LOUD, from two cities over, and I honestly can not believe just how little they report on anything of substance with zero challenges, zero questions and zero coverage. Not even a bone of an update. It is a fucking joke, a disgusting, sick and twisted fucking joke. Game, set, match.

      Yeah, you'd think that they were in it to serve and protect us all wouldn't you? They're in it to stuff your out-of-line ass in jail and, as it now seems, to take over the world starting right here at home. Control, it is all about control, manipulation and harvesting.

      Constrict, restrict, observe, apprehend, incarcerate. They've made it easier than shooting frogs in a barrel and then they just keep refilling the barrel.

      Terrorism defined.

      I don't feel safe, I feel played.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 3:59pm

        Re: Re: "Nope and Estrange"

        You're delusional if you don't think the MSM Lefty Media is covering for Obama. The media was all over GWFuckup.

        -Obama can LIE about the Domestic Spying Program on Leno and lie continually about Obamacare and the MSM (Dem Politburo) REFUSES to hold him accountable.

        -Clapper can blatantly LIE to Congress with only 2 stories about it and go on to head the 'Independent' NSA Surveillance Review Board! Really??

        -Justice Department is refusing to investigate the lies to the FISA court with no MSM story.

        -Sec of State Clinton's core duty was to protect our embassies around the world and 4 brave Americans died on Sept 11, 2012 while the Lefty Media pushed it under the rug and ran with the "video made them do it" story - Not because Clinton screwed up on the anniversary of 9-11.

        Wake up Rapnel, if you don't think the Socialist Lefty Media is not covering for Obama and Clinton, you're lost...

         

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          Rapnel (profile), Oct 4th, 2013 @ 8:31am

          Re: Re: Re: "Nope and Estrange"

          Wait, I see what flag you're waving because you're swinging it so high but what I don't see is why you could possibly be so upset with Socialist Lefty Media (SLM) when they are merely a product of their design. The prior president was not popular and this one is. Gosh, it's almost as if their bread is buttered for them or something.

          Those that need to be called out are the "people" that continue to vote themselves into a different country than the one that they started in. In other words you, me, them, those guys and those other guys need to drive the message. It's pretty clear that SLM is, mostly, just another for profit industry telling as many as they can just exactly what they'd care to hear.

          What I'm saying is that I'm quite awake and, generally speaking, don't give a fuck who is covering for who in SLM world because I do not subscribe. Yeah, I know, but but but... But money. Media doesn't give a fuck, they just want to get paid. You're supposed to give a fuck, which clearly you do, so your efforts and disgust with SLM should be directed at your representatives (and everyone else's for that matter).

          What I'm delusional about is believing that idiot liberals and idiot conservatives can rise above the containers they've willingly put themselves into (even if it's just jack-in-the-box style for a breath of fresh air once in a while) and paint things a nice shade of grey once in a while.

          You seem to have this strange notion that SLM is accountable in some way for the activities and actions of government when they're simply another messenger catering to the sleepy. It's OUR job to hold government accountable. It seems you'd rather lash out at easy (yes, way too easy) targets. So, while I agree with you on the basic premise I do not agree with the focus and culpability of MediaCorp because, to me, they're simply another well financed corporate leech beholden to nothing apart from their carrier contracts. You buy cable and they get paid, it's pretty simple.

           

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      Pragmatic, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 5:26am

      Re: "Nope and Estrange"

      Yeah, 'cause Fox has been all over it. Wait...

       

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    aldestrawk (profile), Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 12:51pm

    curious sidenote about copyright

    The Courthouse News Service article about this which is linked to in this article has an image which is the cover to one of the paperback versions of Philip K. Dick's novel "Eye in the Sky". If Isa Dick Hackett were aware of this she would probably complain on behalf of the PK Dick estate or does copyright belong to the artist who created the image? I do believe Courthouse news should at least give attribution for that image.

     

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      Lurker Keith, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 6:56pm

      Re: curious sidenote about copyright

      Unfortunately, Copyright doesn't necessarily belong to the creator. My understanding is it defaults to the creator, unless there is some kind of contract shifting ownership of the copyright.

      Though I'm sure some books' copyrights belong to the author, I have a feeling most contracts shift the copyright to the Publisher.

      You'd have to check the book to find out who has the Copyright assignment.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 1:19pm

    ...would somehow “reveal that CBP is aware of the illegal activities taking place in a particular location.” It’s hard to fathom how releasing the name of a county sheriff department...

    To take the yes-hat on. Doesn't the particular mention and the extra attention given to the information suppression make perps even more aware of them possibly being watched by drones, and isn't that enough warning for any future illegal actions to be moved, just in case the mention is of their particular shindig?

    It seems somewhat counterproductive to demand the information suppressed unless they want to send a general message to people doing illegal activities. That such use of secrecy is pretty dubious legally is just icing on the cake.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 9:41pm

    I'm sure the DOJ would get their panties in a twist if civilians start deploying drones to track police movements during protests.

    It basically comes down to, federal, state, and local governments can use drones however they see fit. The civilian population, on the other hand, is strictly regulated.

    Great, I'm feeling oppressed already...

     

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    Boy John, Nov 2nd, 2013 @ 9:36am

    Surveillance

    EFF hasnt done anything- cause abuse is still ongoing.

    Hear of FBI " Cyber awareness" month? How come they are afilliated with those elsewhere conducting E/ W against the US? as also used for IW?

    What garbage at US taxpayer expense. Homeland security? There isnt any LOL

     

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