WASHINGTON – A privacy organization is warning that just about anyone in the United States could be monitored by a drone run by the Customs and Border Protection Agency in violation of privacy standards, and it has launched a petition to have the government shut down its operations until reasonable rules are adopted to provide guidance.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center has created an online petition to David V. Aguilar, deputy commissioner of the CBP in Washington, asking to have the controversial drone program suspended pending the development of privacy regulations for drones used in U.S. airspace.
Drone activities were highlighted recently when an ABC News reporter speculated that drones could become such a routine part of life in the U.S. that they would be the tool of choice to find lost dogs or cats.
But finding pets isn’t the worry. What’s alarming civil liberties experts and privacy advocates is that American drones now could track citizens through their cell phones, identify them through a handgun, pepper them with rubber bullets to intimidate them or just blast them off the face of the Earth with live ammunition.
It was for those issues that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and several others staged a nearly 13-hour filibuster in the U.S. Senate against President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as CIA director yesterday.
EPIC said it recently obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act that indicate the border agency drones are equipped with technology for signals interception and human identification.
The petition addressed to Aguilar states: “The use of drones for border surveillance presents substantial privacy and civil liberties concerns for millions of Americans across the country. According to the agency, the border area encompasses all areas within 100 miles of an external boundary, including both land and sea borders. Approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population resides within this area, including all residents of New York City, Chicago, Miami, and San Diego.”
The petition further explains that the Predator B drones carry payload technology to intercept communications and identify human targets on the ground. Many have raised questions about whether or not the use of the technology violates federal privacy laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and the Privacy Act of 1974.
The petition further explains that the agency has made a practice of allowing federal, state and local law enforcement entities to utilize the drone technology for operations unrelated to the CBP’s mission.
A Department of Homeland Security report from 2012 revealed that CBP drones had been flown for the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies.
“The American public is substantially affected by the use of drones in U.S. airspace and the agency has failed to provide legal authority or to seek public comments on a program that allows for the interception of private communications and the surveillance and tracking of individuals in the United States,” the petition reads.
EPIC is urging individuals and organizations to sign the petition before March 18. Under federal law, the agency is required to respond to public petitions.
“The agency may not operate outside the law. CBP must begin a public rulemaking to assess compliance with federal privacy laws and to establish privacy safeguards for the lawful deployment of drones in the United States,” explains the petition.
WND reported yesterday Paul’s effort in the Senate.
It was prompted by Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement that he believes the president has the authority to order a drone strike to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder’s said.
He said Obama “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”
On the Senate floor, Paul asked: “If our country is a battlefield, if our country is a war zone, what is left? What are we fighting for it we are not going to fight for our rights at home?”
Drones have played a major role in the U.S. effort against Islamic terrorism. Run from command centers in the U.S., they can identify and kill terrorist leaders.
But recent reports have alarmed some. The Washington Times is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security holds technology that can enable a drone to determine if a civilian is carrying a gun.
And a CBS report said the idea of lethal force coming on Americans from the air is a concern.
In Montgomery County, Texas, Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said a drone could be armed with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The ABC reporter who said drones would be used to find missing pets was on camera:
There have been estimates that there will be 30,000 drones flying over U.S. citizens within a few years, and states already are preparing a defense.
A number already have proposed state limits, including a ban on weaponization in Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Georgia. Also, several states have provided farmers and ranchers protection from aerial surveillance, and some states are thinking about requiring a public reporting of drone activities.