New documents reveal U.S. Marshals experimented with using drones for domestic surveillance
By End the Lie
Documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today reveal that the U.S. Marshals Service has experimented with utilizing drones for domestic surveillance. Unfortunately the Marshals Service released only two heavily redacted pages out of 30 total pages on their drone program.
While we now know that drones indeed regularly fly over the United States and over 80 public entities have been authorized by the government to fly drones domestically, we still do not actually know how many entities are actually authorized to conduct these flights.
To make matters even worse, the Obama administration will not say if they claim the authority to conduct drone strikes on Americans on U.S. soil without charge or trial (or even clear evidence) as they do around the world based on a classified legal justification.
The documents (PDF) released by the ACLU today were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The ACLU also obtained a brief log (PDF) of drone accidents compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration along with accident reports and some other documents from the U.S. Air Force.
As the ACLU points out, this comes after a bipartisan bill restricting drone use was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe of Texas in the House. End the Lie previously reported on Poe’s statements on possible federal action to restrict domestic drone surveillance.
Others are also open to new legislation including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, according to statements made to reporters at a breakfast in Washington, D.C. today.
“I’m very open to people’s concerns about Big Brother’s eye in the sky and the questions raised about due process rights as a result of that,” Goodlatte said, according to U.S. News and World Report. “Yes, legislation is something we’ll consider.”
While the nature of the documents obtained by ACLU makes it hard to glean a great deal of information, we can learn a bit about the Marshal Service’s drone surveillance efforts.
Under the header, “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Man-Portable (UAV) Program,” we read:
USMS [U.S. Marshals Service] Technical Operations Group’s UAV Program provides a highly portable, rapidly deployable overhead collection device that will provide a multi-role surveillance platform to assist in [redacted] detection of targets.
Another heavily redacted document reads:
This developmental program is designed to provide [redacted] in support of TOG [presumably the agency’s Technical Operations Group] investigations and operations. This surveillance solution can be deployed during [multiple redactions] to support ongoing tactical operations.
The documents don’t reveal much of anything about the actual nature of the drone program and the program may be defunct, according to an article published earlier this month by the Los Angeles Times.
“In 2004 and 2005, the U.S. Marshals Service tested two small drones in remote areas to help them track fugitives, according to law enforcement officials and documents released to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The Marshals Service abandoned the program after both drones crashed.”
This makes one wonder why a whopping seven years after the program was supposedly abandoned the Marshals Service still refuses to hand over any substantive information on it.
One must also wonder if the program has continued since so many other agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, units of the National Guard and others have embraced drones thus justifying the increase in drone piloting programs offered by colleges and universities.
“Americans have the right to know if and how the government is using drones to spy on them,” said ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump. “Drones are too invasive a tool for it to be unclear when the public will be subjected to them.”
“The government needs to respect Americans’ privacy while using this invasive technology, and the laws on the books need to be brought up to date to ensure that America does not turn into a drone surveillance state,” Crump said.
That is precisely what multiple states including Virginia, Florida and many others along with cities like Charlottesville, Virginia and Seattle, Washington are attempting to do in looking at legislation restricting drone use.
For those who are interested in fighting back against drone use, there are many local and state efforts you can support. Please check out the above linked articles for information on efforts in your area or take a moment to search for local advocacy groups.
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