If you think you’re being watched from the skies, you might be right. Law enforcement is increasingly using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles to spy on average people.
In a letter to US Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the FBI admitted it uses drones in domestic surveillance. The letter from Assistant Director Stephen Kelly stated that the bureau has been using drones for surveillance since 2006 – all without a warrant. In June outgoing FBI director Robert Mueller acknowledged that the FBI has no “operational guidelines” for the use of drones.
Kelly said warrants will be obtained only when “individuals have reasonable expectations of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.”
In a follow-up letter, Paul asked for more details.
“It is important that you clarify your interpretation of when an individual is assumed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Paul wrote. “I am concerned that an overbroad interpretation of this protection would enable more substantial information collection on an individual in a circumstance they might not have believed was subject to surveillance.”
Local Law Enforcement Wants Drones Too
Local law enforcement agencies are also considering the use of drones. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson told a local TV station that he would like to purchase some drones for his force.
Dotson noted that the drones cost between $80,000 and $300,000 apiece and that they would be more cost effective than helicopters. He even talked about new drones that are smaller than a coffee cup and cost less than $10,000.
The chief stated that the drones would be used to monitor public spaces and events like baseball games. He mentioned terrorists and suspicious activity as a pretext for deploying the vehicles.
Dotson is hardly alone; dozens of law enforcement agencies across the country have filed applications to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the use of drones. RT.com reported that several such applications have been granted. Most of the law enforcement drones are flying in rural areas.
“This is a significant expansion of government surveillance,” Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Eastern Missouri, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Our laws have not kept up with our privacy rights. Our Fourth Amendment privacy rights aren’t safe from unreasonable search and seizure when you’re looking at drones.”
Dotson isn’t the only big city police chief asking for surveillance drones. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis wants to use drones to monitor activities at next year’s Boston Marathon. Police in New York City and Florida are also considering the use of drones. Meanwhile, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn scuttled his city’s police department’s plans to put drones in the air.
The Pentagon Is Watching You with Blimps
The US Army is stationing highly sophisticated spy blimps over American cities. The Army is planning to station drone airships over Washington, D.C., that have the capacity to conduct constant surveillance of ground activities for months on end.
The blimps, called Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Systems, or JLENS, have the ability to monitor activities on the ground. Among other things, they can track moving vehicles and spot targets as small as a single man on the ground.
The JLENS can track hundreds of moving targets at once, according to a press release from its manufacturer, Raytheon. It can monitor you from as far away as 320 miles. It can also stay in the sky for up to a month at a time, and it costs only a few pennies a day to operate.
The pretext for JLENS is that it will detect terrorist activity, but it could easily be used to track protestors or drivers on the freeways.
The Skies Are Watching You
It looks like surveillance drones are already flying the skies all over the United States. Their numbers are increasingly enabling law enforcement to monitor what Americans do on their own property.