Border Patrol Drone Fleet Straying Far From The Borders When Not Being Loaned Out To Whatever Agency Comes Asking
from the the-CBP:-everywhere-you-want-to-be dept
"How much spying on Americans is too much spying?" is the question no one seems to be asking, unless prompted by document leaks or a handful of legislators. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has had access to drones for a few years now, mainly using them to (you guessed it) patrol the borders. The immigration legislation that is working its way through Congress seeks to expand the CBP's drone armada.
This wouldn't seem to be much of an issue if these drones were used as intended. Instead, the CBP has been acting as a drone lending library, loaning out its drones to other government agencies.
As Congress considers a new immigration law that would expand the fleet of unmanned drones along the border, the agency in charge of border protection is increasingly offering the military-grade drones it already owns to domestic law enforcement agencies and has considered equipping them with “nonlethal weapons,” according to documents recently made public...The uses listed here are acceptable, with the drones acting in an investigative fashion targeting specific areas or activities. The concern is more with the fact that each drone is capable of 20 hours of flight between refuelings and usage by other agencies doesn't seem to be subject to oversight.
The flight logs provided by the agency show that it has become increasingly generous with its unmanned aerial vehicles. They have been used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the North Dakota Army National Guard, Texas Department of Public Safety and the United States Forest Service, among others.
Agencies that have used the 10 Predator drones owned by the Customs and Border Protection Agency have deployed them to investigate fishing violations, search for missing persons and inspect levees along the Mississippi River, among other things.
Skeptics say the use of drones raises the prospect of ubiquitous monitoring, especially by law enforcement, and several states have already proposed measures to restrict their use by police.The CBP itself has already broadened its usage of the drones, mainly by broadening its definition of the word "border," according to the EFF.
“What concerns me is the lack of clear, transparent rules for domestic drone use,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from Northern California, who recently introduced legislation to limit their use in domestic airspace. She said she was concerned about “the government’s increased interest in using drones for domestic surveillance and security, including the potential use of force. But the law today has weak requirements for individual privacy protection, transparency of drone use, and limitations on arming drones with weapons.”
According to the documents, CBP already appears to be flying drones well within the Southern and Northern US borders, and for a wide variety of non-border patrol reasons. What’s more — the agency is planning to increase its Predator drone fleet to 24 and its drone surveillance to 24 hours per day / 7 days per week by 2016.The FBI's usage of these drones is also problematic. A few weeks ago, the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, admitted the FBI was using drones for domestic surveillance, although he claimed it was done in a "very, very minimal, very seldom" way. Mueller said the issue was "worthy of debate and legislation down the road." One would think the debate and legislation should have preceded the drone usage, but this is how things are done, apparently. Get the fleet up and circling overland before agreeing to discuss it further at some undetermined point in the future.
Not only is there no legislation covering the FBI's drone usage, but the FBI itself couldn't even be bothered to whip up some internal controls before sending the drones skyward.
[Mueller] said the FBI was in "the initial stages" of developing privacy guidelines to balance security threats with civil liberty concerns.As for the CBP, its drone usage is escalating sharply.
CBP’s three years of daily flight logs detail when, where and how the agency flew its Predator drones on behalf of other agencies. These logs show a marked increase in drone flights over the years. In 2010, CBP appears to have flown its Predators about 30 times on behalf of other agencies, but this number increased to more than 160 times in 2011 and more than 250 times in 2012.Again, as is the case with the FBI, the CBP has provided no details on what it's doing to protect the privacy of American citizens. The EFF is calling for a halt of the CBP's drone flights until it answers a few questions on flight locations, privacy protection and its intentions to arm these drones, with lethal or non-lethal weapons.
While CBP blacked out important information about dates, geographic location of flights, and, in most cases, agency names, these logs do provide some insights into the agency’s drone program. For example, we’ve learned that CBP conducted drone surveillance for law enforcement agencies ranging from the FBI, ICE, the US Marshals, and the Coast Guard to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the North Dakota Army National Guard, and the Texas Department of Public Safety. These missions ranged from specific drug-related investigations, searches for missing persons, border crossings and fishing violations to general “surveillance imagery” and “aerial reconnaissance” of a given location.
Not every drone is bad news and they can serve some very important functions. Unfortunately, the agencies using these drones don't have a very solid track record when it comes to civil liberties. They've also demonstrated they'd rather get their drones airborne first, and sort out the impact on American citizens at some point in the future. It's a clear indication of how these agencies view the rights of Americans: as an annoyance to be dealt with only when forced to.