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Timm reports: "The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has indicated it wants to more than double its fleet of Predator drones used to fly surveillance missions inside the United States."

The Department of Homeland Security wants to double its drone fleet. (photo: Katie Drummond)
The Department of Homeland Security wants to double its drone fleet. (photo: Katie Drummond)

DHS to Double US Drone Fleet

By Trevor Timm, Electronic Frontier Foundation

22 November 12


espite renewed criticism from both parties in Congress that domestic drones pose a privacy danger to US citizens - and a report from its own Inspector General recommending to stop buying them - the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has indicated it wants to more than double its fleet of Predator drones used to fly surveillance missions inside the United States.

Yesterday, California Watch reported that DHS signed a contract that could be worth as much as $443 million with General Atomics for the purchase up to fourteen additional Predator drones to fly near the border of Mexico and Canada. Congress would still need to appropriate the funds, but if they did, DHS' drone fleet woud increase to twenty-four.

While many people may think the US only flies Predator drones overseas, DHS has already spent $250 million over the last six years on ten surveillance Predators of its own. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) - a division of DHS - uses the unmanned drones inside the U.S. to patrol the borders with surveillance equipment like video cameras, infrared cameras, heat sensors, and radar.

They say the drones are vital in the fight to stop illegal immigrants, but as EFF reported in June, the DHS Inspector General issued a report faulting DHS for wasting time, money, and resources using drones that were ineffective and lacked oversight. The Inspector General chastised the agency for buying two drones last year despite knowing these problems and recommended they cease buying them until the problems could be fixed.

Perhaps worse, DHS is also flying Predator drone missions on behalf of a diverse group of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies for missions beyond immigration issues. We know they have lent the drones out to the county sheriff's department in North Dakota and the Texas Rangers, among others, but unfortunately, we don’t know the full extent DHS lending program. DHS, as is their custom, is keeping that information secret.

In response, last month EFF sued DHS under the Freedom of Information Act demanding answers about how and why it loans out its Predator drones to other law enforcement agencies across the country. EFF's lawsuit asks for the records and logs of CBP drone flights conducted in conjunction with other agencies.

These drones pose a multitude of privacy concerns to all Americans, as the Congressional Research Service (Congress’ non-partisan research arm) detailed in this comprehensive report on domestic drones and the Fourth Amendment. The report explains drones can be equipped with, among other capabilities, facial recognition technology, fake cell phone towers to intercept phone calls, texts and GPS locations, and in a few years, will even be able to see through walls.

Despite these concerns, DHS has not publicly issued any privacy rules to make sure drones do not spy on US residents in border states going about their daily lives. In fact, at a Congressional hearing on the subject, DHS refused to send anyone to testify, leading both parties to criticize their absence.

This is even more troubling given DHS is also leading the push to get local police agencies to purchase their own drones by handing out $4 million to agencies to “facilitate and accelerate” their use. The FAA estimates as many as 30,000 drones could be flying over US territory by the end of the decade.

The booming drone industry, which has announced a PR campaign in an attempt tamp down the public’s privacy concerns, is quick to point out that these police drones - which cost anywhere from under $100,000 to $1 million - are smaller than Predators and do not have the same flight time, so police would not be able to surveil Americans for hours or days at a time like Predator drones could. Yet as the technology advances rapidly and becomes cheaper every year, smaller drones will soon be able to fly for an extended time period as well.

For example, Lockhead Martin has developed a drone that weighs only 13.2 pounds, well within the FAA’s domestic weight limits, and can be recharged by a laser on the ground, allowing it remain in the air indefinitely.

Several members of Congress have commendably introduced bills that would protect the privacy of Americans and increase transparency surrounding their use. These members, who voted for increased drone use in February but have recently expressed second thoughts, should call DHS representatives before Congress to explain their position. The American people deserve answers about to whom Homeland Security is loaning its drones, how DHS plans on protecting Americans’ privacy, and why they even need any more, given they are misusing the drones they already have. your social media marketing partner


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-39 # jonny4thbase 2012-11-22 16:55
This seems like a good Idea. it is a win-win answer to a problem facing our border states.
+18 # randyjet 2012-11-22 23:21
This is a BAD idea from the standpoint of aviation safety. These drones CANNOT safely operate in a see and aviod VFR environment since they CANNOT see and avoid since they are looking ONLY at the ground and NOT at the air around them. They are large enough to destroy an airplane if it hits one, but too small to be easily visible. THAT is a recipe for disaster.
+18 # DPM 2012-11-22 23:35
O.k, jonny. You'll never know how they're used, until it is too late to stop them. Remember, all it takes is someone mad enough and crazy enough at you, to put you on a list. You don't actually have to do anything wrong. Perhaps you should pay more attention to the "creeping police state" that is only looking after your "safety'.
+15 # seeuingoa 2012-11-23 04:12
The French philosopher and lawyer
Montesquieu (1689-1755) saw despotism
as a danger for any government not
already despotic, and argued that it could best be prevented by a system
in which different, separated bodies
exercised legislative, executive, and
judicial power, and in which all of
these bodies were bound by the rule
of law.
This theory of separation of powers had
an enormous impact on liberal political
theory, and on the framers of the
Constitutions of France and the United
States of America.

And now we have drones and indefinite

What happened with democracy?
+16 # Richard Miller 2012-11-23 06:58
No, No, No! I see one, it is going to be shot down. How much more in the name of terrorism are we going to give up as far as our right to privacy goes? What is next? a micro chip installed into our bodies at birth with any and all information about me on it? Don't be so quick to sign on to these crock of shit ideas by the DHS!
+11 # RMDC 2012-11-23 07:50
RM -- I wonder what would happen if someone shot a drone down? Probably it would be called an act of terrorism and would be the pretext for launching 100 more drones.

But this might be better than skeet shooting which as I hear is really popular. Maybe Radio Shack will sell a portable radar device so people can tell when a drone is coming and where it is.

I read that Israeli drones are buzzing all over Gaza. I wonder if Palestinians are tyring to shoot them down.
+14 # Glen 2012-11-23 07:32
The beginning of one more giant concentration camp: the U.S.

The excuses given for increased surveillance are as from so many governments past and present. We will not be safer due to this surveillance. We will be subjected to increased mistakes on the part of "law enforcement" and downright monitoring of private lives. Border guarding is simply an excuse to increase the numbers of drones, which has been in the works for months. Even universities have included them in their budget ostensibly for research.
+9 # Rita Walpole Ague 2012-11-23 07:39
The anything but patriotic Patriot Act, founder of Homeland Security, was a topping off point in the longtime coming MIC (military industrial complex's) coup d'etat. But with the phoney baloney 9/11 ploy, and Bushwhackng/Koc hsicking karlroving PR creation of DHS, it's been, period, end of our pretense about having Constitutional rights, rule of law, etc. etc. etc..

G.O.P. Pres. Eisenhower warned us as he was leaving office, and Dem. Pres. Carter made a viable attempt to cut back on MIC, resulting in his damnation plus by villainaire rulers.

And then, there's Lockheed Martin - with its record of defrauding (well over a billion in a ten year period with basic breakage of a binding contract with, no big surprise, U.S. tax payers footing the bill. Again, no big surprise, Colorado Springs, super fusion center of the nation, with Northern Command Center giving out DHS orders to local authorities and govt. agents across this country, to spy on U. S. residents, particularly peace and justice activists who peacefully attempt to exercise their rights of assembly, free speech, etc., is where Lockheed has long resided, and where drones are going to be made, with mass extension of current MIC facilities, all the time with one out of three persons who barely survive attempting to live on the streets being vets, many of whom are disabled with little or no assist from the VA.

Time we the sheeple wake up!
+12 # RMDC 2012-11-23 07:47
USG surveilllance programs have not stopped drugs, immigrants, or anything from coming into the US or moving around the nation quite easily.

I think we all know that the whole regime of surveillance is really directed against domenstic protest. the USG is a fully blown fascist regime. Opposition to it is very strong but at the moment impotent. As people get poorer and more desperate, they will resist with more determination, even violence. There may someday be an american spring when masses of people become uncontrollable. The surveillance system has already identified any potential leaders and they will be rounded up immediately. the information collected on every human being in the US (and world) will be used to concoct charges that will keep them in prison indefinitely, even if there is never a trial.

the USG is simply building the infrastructure of the most comprehensive tyranny in all human history. they must be reading Orwell's 1984 as their blueprint. Quite amazing!!!
0 # 666 2012-11-24 10:21
with their digital surveillance programs that monitor virtually all of our internal communications (including those cell phone gps personal locators) and cameras with facial recognition technology, there's no NEED for drones. as far as seeing through walls, that technology began to used widely in the 80s in the war on drugs (mainly infrared) - of course we're not using this technology in US ports despite 9-11.... drones are cheaper and more flexible than satellites, they will replace many police functions (surveillance, highway traffic speed monitoring etc). what is the only real reason for using weapons-platfor m drones like the predator? (that's a rhetorical question). the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. the only thing the government has to fear is us. the only answer to that is more surveillance, more tracking, more monitoring, and more weapons. Yes, Virginia, you are living in an orwellian state at its formative stage. I think I want to be Amish...
+11 # Third_stone 2012-11-23 09:22
They are using military equipment against the citizens. It is the same as the military operating inside the country, of questionable legality. The matter of "secure borders" is nowhere near as important a matter as protecting our liberty. These men are trading away your liberty for a pretense of security.
+8 # reiverpacific 2012-11-23 10:19
Department of Homeland Insecurity = The Fragmented States of Paranoia.
Shame on Obama if he capitulates.
This money should be spent on "Homeland" infrastructure (and thereby across-the-boar d employment) or universal health care.
But then they are positive, progressive and inclusive, ain't they!?
0 # 666 2012-11-24 10:23
"If he capitulates" ????? !!!!!!

sorry, I realize now you must be joking!
0 # Doubter 2012-11-23 13:32
I told you so!
+2 # Diane_Wilkinson_Trefethen_aka_tref 2012-11-23 19:15
It is well past time that the Patriot Act be repealed and that DHS be dismantled. Both are a pox on America. They do not provide us with a level of security that is remotely worth their obscene infringement on our Constitution.

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