The FBI is operating a “small air force” of mysterious small planes that fly low to the ground, take detailed surveillance video, and perform secret cell phone surveillance – and hiding it all by pretending the planes are owned by private companies, the Associated Press reports.
And most of the time, it’s done without a warrant or a judge’s approval.
The report comes amid stories of people being startled by low-flying planes above businesses and homes. In one recent 30-day period, the FBI flew above 30-plus cities in 11 states, AP said. It is believed the agency owns at least 100 aircraft.
“The program raises questions about whether there should be updated policies protecting civil liberties as new technologies pose intrusive opportunities for government spying,” AP reported.
FBI officials apparently only confirmed the use of the airplanes following an AP investigation. They’ve operated under more than a dozen fake company names: FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR Aviation and PXW Services. The FBI actually asked the AP not to disclose the names of the companies, but AP declined. The FBI implied it now will set up new fake companies.
The FBI says the planes are used only for investigating specific cases, but AP noted that the “planes can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over for prosecutions.”
The airplanes also carry technology that can mimic cell towers and “can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call.” In other words, your cell phone would believe the FBI device is the tower.
“Details confirmed by the FBI track closely with published reports since at least 2003 that a government surveillance program might be behind suspicious-looking planes slowly circling neighborhoods,” the report said. “The AP traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights since late April orbiting both major cities and rural areas.”
Some of the aircraft are Cessnas.
“These are not your grandparents’ surveillance aircraft,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, told AP. He said the flights are significant “if the federal government is maintaining a fleet of aircraft whose purpose is to circle over American cities, especially with the technology we know can be attached to those aircraft.”
Read the rest of the AP report here.
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