Sen. Wyden Introduces Bill Aimed At Limiting FBI, US Marshals' Flying Spy Planes

from the hacking-away-at-the-surveillance-overgrowth dept

It’s safe to say no domestic surveillance program will be escaping legislators’ attention in the post-Snowden era — at least not for the forseeable future. It’s only been a couple of weeks since news of the FBI’s secret spy plane fleet made national headlines and there’s already legislation in the works aimed at setting some… um… ground rules.

In a bill announced Wednesday, Wyden joins Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller on the Protecting Individuals From Mass Aerial Surveillance Act, which if passed would require warrants for the government to analyze and collect data gathered en masse via domestic airplane or surveillance drone.

“Technology has made it possible to conduct round-the-clock aerial surveillance. The law needs to keep up,” Wyden said in a statement. “Clear rules for when and how the federal government can watch Americans from the sky will provide critical certainty for the government, and help the unmanned aircraft industry reach its potential as an economic powerhouse in Oregon and the United States.”

It’s not just the FBI’s flying spies being targeted by this bill. It’s also looking to dial back the US Marshals Service’s use of airborne IMSI catchers, a.k.a. “dirtboxes,” as well as targeting surveillance drones, picking up where 2013’s stalled Drone Privacy Act left off.

Hopefully, the bill will force a bit more transparency about use of these surveillance techniques. A warrant requirement is a nice thought, although it’s hard to imagine what sort of warrant would cover a “search” that involves flying a plane in continuous circles over a small area of a city.

Considering the lowered expectation of privacy in public areas, the warrant requirement is going to be a tough sell. If it does stick, it will at least ensure deployments are targeted, rather than just exploratory. There’s an opportunity here to force better and more detailed reporting of deployments, as well as significantly limiting the use of flying surveillance vehicles by eliminating exploitable loopholes.

The bill also would prevent government agencies from running footage obtained by drones or planes through facial/pattern recognition software in hopes of stumbling across untargeted suspects. It also would forbid law enforcement agencies from bypassing restrictions and reporting requirements by hiring private contractors to perform their illegal surveillance for them.

Five years ago, this sort of legislation would be dead on arrival, with deferential nods to terrorism and the War on Drugs replacing any serious consideration of the public’s privacy. Thanks to the Snowden’s leaks, any bill seeking to limit domestic surveillance now has a fighting chance, with even the reluctant administration forced to make more concessions to privacy than it would under other circumstances.

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Comments on “Sen. Wyden Introduces Bill Aimed At Limiting FBI, US Marshals' Flying Spy Planes”

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Mr Big Content says:

Teh Price Of Liberty Is Enternal Vigilance

If we want to keep our Liberty, we have to be Vigilant against those who wuold take it away from Us. and Who are these poeple? Why, ALL THOSE POEPLE OUT THERE, of course! THATS who we must keep an Eye on! All of them! And this traitor Wyden would tie teh hands of our Law enfrocement from DOING THIS IMPROTANT JOB!

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Law enforcement is probably looking at it like drunk driving checkpoints. If you do it randomly you have a problem proving the randomness. Their solution is do it to everybody, no random problem.

On the other hand, every time this gets in front of someone other than law enforcement (judges, media), they go out of their way to show how ‘targeted’ these operations are, while they scoop up everybodies data because there is no way for a Stingray to be targeted until after everybodies data is collected and you ‘narrow’ the search of that data to just the target. Yeah…right!

Could it be that there is a criminal justice course entitled ‘Spin, or How to Lay Blame on Others’ which could be shortened to ‘How to CYA’? Would it be a mandatory course, or just an elective?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Their solution is do it to everybody, no random problem.”

True, but in doing so they are committing an even greater sin.

The real law enforcement mentality is that they should be able to do anything they damned well please, and will do their best to bypass any limitations. Those drunk driving checkpoints are an excellent example of precisely that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

EO 12333.

You take that down, that an low level dementia suffering President signed into law a year before I was born and everything goes down. And also maybe apply previous EO’s going back to JFK and even further back that are ignored now in this Leo Strauss New America. It’s crazy how many things turned shitty in the early 80’s, creating realities we are still living in.

If Hinduism is the one right religion, you get thrown in this world in the early 80’s if you did bad before, heh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Privacy expectations

Considering the lowered expectation of privacy in public areas, the warrant requirement is going to be a tough sell.

Law enforcement obviously believes in “might makes right” (also known as “political power flows from the barrel of a gun”): if they have the technical means to collect it, they should have the lawful right to do so. There are three classes of information that these planes are technically able to collect:

1. Information about people “in public view” on the street, in a park, in the public area of a building, etc.
2. Information about people “out of (traditional) public view” but in view of an aircraft with the right angle and altitude: in buildings near a window that cannot be used from the ground, in back yards with good fences, or deep within no-trespassing land.
3. Information about people “in private”: inside a structure not open to the public, away from a window, but not shielded from cellular leakage. This class only covers non-visual surveillance (“Whose phones are in that building?”).

The legally low expectation of privacy could make it a hard sell to protect class 1. However, class 2 and particularly class 3 could be an easier sell since, if you ground the airplane, they have no “low tech” way of warrantlessly collecting that information at scale, if at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

> although it’s hard to imagine what sort of warrant would cover a “search” that involves flying a plane in continuous circles over a small area of a city.

I believe the bill is trying to outlaw general warrants, which have never been legal. General warrants in the form of airborne IMSI catchers, a.k.a. “dirtboxes”. Which can gather everyone’s location, internet browsing session, text messages, phone calls, and reprogram people’s cellphones via flash updates by impersonating wireless carriers, en mass.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why are the US Marshalls doing this? I can see the FBI and especially the DEA (those cams they have in their planes to detect outside weed ops going by the kind of heat cannabis plants release compared to other plants, for example), but the US Marshalls? I’m Canadian so I’m not too familiar with them but from what I learned from movies and tv is that Marshalls are the officers inside court rooms, keep some people like say an informant who is kinda in danger so the US Marshalls pick them up for a kind protective custody or when they need to bring a prisoner back into society temporarily because other agencies need him/her (prisoner) to help on an ongoing investigation where these prisoners can help out with info, get other people who don’t know the prisoner is in prison right now for stings and such.

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