The Air Force, like the rest of the military and the CIA, isn’t supposed to conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans domestically, according to an Apr. 23 instruction from the flying service. But should the drones taking off over American soil accidentally keep their cameras rolling and their sensors engaged, well … that’s a different story.
“Collected imagery may incidentally include U.S. persons or private property without consent,” reads the instruction, unearthed by the secrecy scholar Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. That kind of “incidental” spying won’t be immediately purged, however. The Air Force has “a period not to exceed 90 days” to get rid of it — while it determines “whether that information may be collected under the provisions” of a Pentagon directive that authorizes limited domestic spying.
In other words, if an Air Force drone accidentally spies on an American citizen, the Air Force will have three months to figure out if it was legally allowed to put that person under surveillance in the first place.
The potential trouble with those local intelligence missions is once the drones’ powerful sensors and cameras sweep up imagery and other data from Americans nearby, the Air Force won’t simply erase the tapes. It’ll start analyzing whether the people it’s recorded are, among other things, “persons or organizations reasonably believed to be engaged or about to engage, in international terrorist or international narcotics activities.”
Suddenly, accidental spying provides an entrance point into deliberate investigations, all done without a warrant.
And it doesn’t stop with the Air Force. “U.S. person information in the possession of an Air Force intelligence component may be disseminated pursuant to law, a court order,” or the Pentagon directive that governs acceptable domestic surveillance. So what begins as a drone flight over, say, a national park to spot forest fires could end up with a dossier on campers getting passed on to law enforcement.
All this is sure to spark a greater debate about the use of drones and other military surveillance migrating from the warzones of Iraq and Afghanistan back home. The Department of Homeland Security — which is lukewarm on its fleet of spy drones — is expanding its use of powerful, military-grade camera systems. And police departments across the country are beginning to buy and fly drones from the military. Now the Air Force’s powerful spy tools could creep into your backyard in a different way. wired.com
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show a disturbingly large interest in drone surveillance within the United States, with a number of city police departments preparing to turn the Obama Administration’s favorite weapon of war inward as a tool of mass surveillance. Antiwar
Included were a list of all public and private entities that have sought authorization for drone flights, and a number of certificates issued to drone manufacturers showing that the domain of military and CIA spies could soon blanket the entire nation. Antiwar
More than 50 institutions that received approvals to operate remotely piloted aircraft are more varied than previously believed. The Department of Homeland Security, in addition to smaller departments such as the police departments in North Little Rock, Ark., and Ogden, Utah, as well the University of North Dakota and Nicholls State University in Louisiana have also requested drones. aticourses.com
As part of the push to increase uses of civilian drones, nearly 50 companies are developing some 150 different systems, ranging from miniature models to those with wingspans comparable to airliners. catholic.org
The FAA previously said it has approved dozens of nonmilitary uses of unmanned aircraft, ranging from law enforcement to firefighting to wildlife monitoring. Drones also have been used for news coverage, mapping and agricultural applications. clevelandufo.com