DHS secretly flying surveillance missions for other law enforcement agencies
Nov 1, 2012
A privacy rights watchdog is suing the Department of Homeland Security for information relating to the agency’s practice of loaning out Predator drones to law enforcement agencies in the US.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants to obtain and make public details regarding the DHS’ granting permission for domestic police departments to borrow and operate the same type of drones that are used by the military in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Information via news items, DHS press releases, and word of mouth has made it apparent that the DHS is overseeing predator drone flights for a range of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is flying DHS drones fitted with video cameras, infrared cameras, heat sensors, and radar. The Texas Rangers, as well as the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Defense have also used DHS drones. Even a county sheriff’s department in North Dakota is reported to have operated a predator drone belonging to the DHS.
“We’ve seen bits and pieces of information on CBP’s Predator drones, but Americans deserve the full story,” said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch.
The EFF filed suit in a federal court in San Francisco after the DHS did not respond to a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Drones are a powerful surveillance tool that can be used to gather extensive data about you and your activities. The public needs to know more about how and why these Predator drones are being used to watch U.S. citizens.”
The EFF is also suing the US Federal Aviation Administration for similar information regarding authorization of drone flights by domestic police departments. The agency has released some information but is responding too slowly to FOIA requests, meaning any data EFF receives is already well out of date.
“FAA’s foot-dragging means we can’t get a real-time picture of drone activity in the U.S.,” said Lynch. “If officials could release their records in a timely fashion – or publish it as a matter of routine on the FAA website – we could stop filing these FOIA requests and lawsuits.”
Earlier this year, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, or ‘Big Sis’ as she will now forever be known, announced that the agency is preparing to use surveillance drones for the purposes of “public safety”.
The DHS is also already using another type of airborne drone surveillance, utilized to track insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, for the purposes of “emergency and non-emergency incidents” within the United States.
A bill passed by Congress in February paves the way for the use of surveillance drones in US skies on a widespread basis. The FAA predicts that by 2020 there could be up to 30,000 drones in operation nationwide.
US law enforcement bodies are already using drone technology to spy on Americans. In December last year, a Predator B drone was called in to conduct surveillance over a family farm in North Dakota as part of a SWAT raid on the Brossart family, who were suspects in the egregious crime of stealing six missing cows. Local police in this one area have already used the drone on two dozen occasions since June last year.
Last summer, the DHS also gave the green light for police departments in the United States to deploy the ShadowHawk mini-drone helicopter that has the ability to taze suspects from above as well as carrying 12-gauge shotguns and grenade launchers. The drone, also used against insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, is already being used by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office in Texas.
Other police departments have also recently announced plans to roll out other smaller surveillance drones.
Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.