A new report from CBS Los Angeles has revealed some disturbing truths regarding the United States military’s use of drones in American airspace and their sharing of data with various government entities and law enforcement agencies.
A non-classified intelligence report written by the U.S. Air Force dated April 23, 2012 reveals that video and other data captured “inadvertently” or “mistakenly” by military drones flying above the United States could quite easily end up in the hands of federal, state or local law enforcement agencies.
Even the local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles realizes that this is far from minor in pointing out that this procedure is means that law enforcement and the military are “doing an end-run around normal procedures requiring police to obtain court issued warrants.”
I have been an outspoken critic of the blending between law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels for quite a while now, and to me this intelligence report is actually not all that surprising.
I see this as par for the course when you’re dealing with a government which refuses to allow states to have law enforcement with any meaningful separation from federal entities.
What might be shocking to some is that this military policy is actually far from new, as CBS Los Angeles points out, it is “a continuation of a policy already a few years old, but is causing more alarm now as drones appear poised to soon become a ubiquitous presence in the U.S. skies thanks to a federal policy to promote their use, first by law enforcement agencies, and then by commercial concerns.”
Personally, I do not think that law enforcement use of drones is acceptable, nor is commercial use, as we could very well see something like Google Street Drone View.
“We’ve seen in some records that were released by the Air Force just recently, that under their rules, they are allowed to fly drones in public areas and record information on domestic situations,” explains Jennifer Lynch, an attorney working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
“This report noted that they are able to collect that information and then determine whether or not they can keep it,” she explained.
We must realize that these reports actually allow this data to be passed on to a slew of other agencies, which means that they could very well pass it on to the NCTC, allowing the window for storage to widen considerably.
Under these guidelines, the military is allowed to hold on to data “accidentally” captured by drones for as long as three months before destroying it.
However, since they are able to turn over this data to “another department of Defense or government agency to whose function it pertains,” there is nothing stopping them from giving it to the NCTC which can then hold on to it with years despite no relation to terrorism.
The FAA recently introduced a “streamlined” process which allows law enforcement agencies to apply for permits to fly drones and get them approved and thus get drones in the air much quicker than previously expected.
This is noteworthy because it means that law enforcement will be able to get drones up in the air and operational much more rapidly than one might think.
Officials from the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are evaluating the benefits of using drones in the significantly restricted and congested airspace around Los Angeles, although they have yet to purchase any.
While the U.S. Air Force’s guidelines claim that drones are not allowed to carry out “non-consensual surveillance” on U.S. citizens or property, there are plenty of exceptions to this allowing such surveillance to occur.
Personally, I find it ludicrous that they specify “non-consensual surveillance” due to the fact that drones fly at an altitude so high that they cannot easily be detected and thus there is no way consent could be given.
Some of these many exceptions outlined in the Air Force documents include:
- Investigating or preventing clandestine intelligence activities by foreign powers, international narcotics activities, or international terrorist activities
- Protecting DoD employees, information, property and facilities
- Preventing, detecting or investigating other violations of law
Seems pretty broad, doesn’t it? “Other violations of law” leaves the door wide open for the drones to be used for just about everything. After all, jaywalking is a violation of law. Does this mean that if a drone captures someone jaywalking, the use of military drones in U.S. airspace is somehow justified?
The document also outlines the type of assistance that the Air Force drones may provide to law enforcement, which include:
- Violations of US federal law. Incidentally acquired information reasonably believed to indicate a violation of federal law shall be provided to appropriate federal law enforcement through AFOSI channels.
- Other violations of law. Information incidentally acquired during the course of Air Force counterintelligence activities reasonably believed to indicate a violation of state, local or foreign law will be provided to appropriate officials IAW procedures established by the Commander, AFOSI. Information incidentally acquired during the course of Air Force foreign intelligence activities reasonably believed to indicate a violation of state, local, or foreign law will, unless otherwise decided by AF/A2 for national security reasons, be provided to AFOSI IAW procedures established by the AF/A2, or his/her designee, for investigation or referral to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Information covered by this paragraph includes US persona information.
- Provision of specialized equipment and facilities. Specialized intelligence equipment and facilities may be provided to federal law enforcement authorities, and, when lives are endangered, to state and local law enforcement authorities, only with the approval of the SecAF delegated authority and the concurrence of SAF/GC.
- Assistance of Air Force intelligence personnel. Air force intelligence personnel may be assigned to assist federal law enforcement authorities with the approval of the SecAF delegated authority and the concurrence of SAF/GC.
One of the most disturbing aspects of these guidelines is the inclusion of “foreign law.” This makes one wonder, which foreign laws will they honor? Why would foreign laws be honored in the United States of America? This aspect of the guidelines makes little to no sense to me but hopefully it will be cleared up to some degree.
Air Force spokesperson Captain Rose Richeson told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO in an email, “The Executive Branch has promulgated detailed Departmental and Intelligence Community-wide instructions and directives about when it is appropriate to share information with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies consistent with the protection of privacy and civil liberties.”
Sure, that sounds great, except Richeson adds that “a court order or warrant is not required in all circumstances.”
If you aren’t worried or even slightly concerned yet, I don’t know what will wake you from your slumber enough to realize that what should be our government is actively working against us, the American people, under the guise of keeping us safe.
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