I am the eye in the sky, Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules, Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I don’t need to see any more
To know that I can read your mind
- The Alan Parsons Project
Those who share George Orwell’s concerns about Big Brother can forget the black helicopters and start worrying about the drones. Those Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to which the U.S. military in Afghanistan has shifted so much of its intelligence-gathering duties have become popular with domestic law enforcement agencies as well. And therein lies the potential problem. An Air Force intelligence brief has recently surfaced which holds that should UAVs incidentally capture surveillance video of Americans, the data can be stored and analyzed by the Pentagon for up to 90 days:
The instruction, dated April 23, admits that the Air Force cannot legally conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans, but also states that should the drones”incidentally” capture data while conducting other missions, military intelligence has the right to study it to determine whether the subjects are legitimate targets of domestic surveillance.
“Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent,” the instruction states.
The Air Force can take advantage of “a period not to exceed 90 days” to use the data to assess “whether that information may be collected under the provisions of Procedure 2, DoD 5240.1-R and permanently retained under the provisions of Procedure 3, DoD 5240.1-R.” it continues.
The Pentagon directives cited authorize limited domestic spying in certain scenarios such as natural disasters, environmental cases, and monitoring activity around military bases.
Should the drones capture data on Americans, the Air Force says that it should determine whether they are, among other things, “persons or organizations reasonably believed to be engaged or about to engage, in international terrorist or international narcotics activities.”
The instruction also states that the Pentagon can disseminate the data to other intelligence and government agencies, should it see fit.
One reason law enforcement agencies are so enamored of UAVs is that they are considerably less expensive to purchase and operate than helicopters. They are also much quieter as they go about their business, as the noise generated by drones’ smaller engines and propellers is but a whisper compared the the turbine whine and rotor noise produced by the ubiquitous Bell Jet Rangers which have for decades been the overwhelming choice of law enforcement.
Shared concerns over the implementation of drones for domestic use has sparked no small measure of public debate and have brought together such birds of different feathers as the ACLU and the TEA Party movement, at least on the singular issue of domestic spying. With so many federal, state and domestic agencies potentially involved in the matter, the question is how can citizens manage to restrict this powerful tool to use only against the bad guys and not see it employed to abuse the general population?