Thursday, June 14, 2012

Privacy and Safety Concerns Regarding Domestic Drone Program

Drones are not just for reconnaissance and deadly attack missions anymore. Departments and agencies at the federal, state and local levels are quickly adopting drone systems also known as unmanned aerial vehicles  as a cost-effective and supposedly "safer" alternative to piloted aircraft for many civilian missions.

The deployment of drones by law enforcement agencies within the US is obviously controversial. Not only could they potentially monitor law-abiding citizens, it's likely these drones will be weaponized. If nothing else, these unmanned vehicles will be armed with "non-lethal" - potentially lethal - crowd dispersal equipment.

Public Intelligence released a map (below) of current and future drone sites in the US, they assembled from many sources including this one. Altogether, there are 64 drone bases on American soil. That includes 12 locations housing Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, which can be armed.  Moreover, considering our current budget climate, these drones cost on average, $18 million a piece, and  $3,000/hour to fly.

The medium-size Shadow is used in 22 bases, the smaller Raven in 20 and the miniature Wasp in 11. California and Texas lead the pack, with 10 and six sites, respectively, and there are also 22 planned locations for future bases. "It is very likely that there are more domestic drone activities not included in the map, but it is designed to provide an approximate overview of the widespread nature of Department of Defense activities throughout the US," Michael Haynes from Public Intelligence tells Danger Room.

The possibility of military drones (as well as those controlled by police departments and universities) flying over American skies have raised concerns among privacy activists. As the American Civil Liberties Union explained in its December 2011 report, the machines potentially could be used to spy on American citizens. The drones' presence in our skies "threatens to eradicate existing practical limits on aerial monitoring and allow for pervasive surveillance, police fishing expeditions, and abusive use of these tools in a way that could eventually eliminate the privacy Americans have traditionally enjoyed in their movements and activities."

As Danger Room reported last month, even military drones, which are prohibited from spying on Americans, may "accidentally" conduct such surveillance - and keep the data for months afterwards while they figure out what to do with it. The material they collect without a warrant, as scholar Steven Aftergood revealed, could then be used to open an investigation.

The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the U.S. military from operating on American soil, and there's no evidence that drones have violated it so far.
Source: Spying on Americans: 64 Drone Bases on US Soil

Additional Links:

The Federal Government Moves Forward with Drone Programs Despite Poor Planning and Lack of Oversight

Navy Loses Giant Drone in Maryland Crash

Department of Homeland Security's Report on Unmanned Vehicle Aircraft in the Nation's Border Security

Timeline for FAA Domestic Drone Integration

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