Remember privacy? When one could drive to work, go shopping or visit friends without being added to a digital database?
Now there are license plate scanners and traffic photo cameras to keep track of you. Then there are the NSA monitors on your telephone calls and email activity. Ranks of officers also are on duty, and those efforts don’t even touch what commercial interests do to watch where you go and what you look at in the mall.
Now, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of the Army over a program that will be “deployed over Washington, D.C., during the next three years.”
Employing two 250-foot blimps.
The organization explains that one blimp will conduct aerial and ground surveillance over a a 340-mile range, and the other “has targeting capability including HELLFIRE missiles.”
The legal action follows the organization’s request last fall for information from the Army about “records pertaining to the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System.”
The complaint explains the Army is planning to deploy the program, known as JLENS, in Washington. It includes “two tethered, 74-meter helium-filled aerostats connected to mobile mooring stations and a communications and processing group.”
“The aerostats fly as high as 10,000 feet above sea level and can remain aloft and operational for up to 30 days. One aerostat carries a surveillance radar with 360-degree surveillance capability; the other aerostat carries a fire controlled radar.”
The program is designed to allow “commanders to develop and analyze patterns of life over time.”
What is known about the program, according to the complaint, is that a “military test determined that ‘JLENS’ sophisticated radars were able to follow [swarming boat] targets while simultaneously tracking aircrafts, cars and trucks.”
“JLENS operators can observe surface moving targets in real time using a Raytheon Company MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System mounted on the JLENS,” it continues.
That, the complaint ominously notes, is a “long-range surveillance, target acquisition, tracking, range-finding and laser designation for the HELLFIRE missile and all tri-service and NATO laser-guided munitions.”
EPIC had asked for technical details, contracts and information about the program, as well as instructions, policies and procedures under which the surveillance system will run.
The complaint notes EPIC went through the approved procedures for making a document request, as well as appeal.
The organization did get a response from the U.S.Army Test and Evaluation Command that indicated the location did not have the records and it was trying to find them.
But EPIC said the impact is that the Army failed to respond reasonably to EPICs request in violation of the federal law.
It asks the court to order the records to be produced.
EPIC long has argued regarding the use of aerial drone systems that privacy safeguards need to be adopted.
Associate litigation counsel Amie Stepanivoch told a congressional hearing on the issue that drones “can be weaponized and deployed for military purposes” and they also can be equipped “with sophisticated surveillance technology that makes it possible to identify individuals on the ground.”
“On some drones, sensors can track up to 65 different targets across a distance of 65 square miles” and can be equipped with infrared cameras, heat sensors, GPS, sensors that detect movement and automatic license plate readers.
“The ability to link facial recognition capabilities on drones operated by the Department of Homeland Security to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Next Generation identification database or DHS’ IDENT database, two of the largest collections of biometric data in the world, exacerbates the privacy risks,” the group’s 2012 testimony said.
“There are substantial legal and constitutional issues involved in the deployment of aerial drones by federal agencies that need to be addressed,” the statement said. “The increased use of drones to conduct surveillance in the United States must be accompanied by increased privacy protections. We recognize that drone technology has the potential to be used in positive ways.
“However, the current state of the law is insufficient to address the drone surveillance threat,” the group said.
Popular Mechanics reported in 2013 on the plans for “two stark white aerostats” to fly over Washington, “a pair of eyes in the sky to detect incoming threats.”
It said the $2.7 billion JLENS program was close then to operation.
Program director Doug Burgess said at the time crew members experienced at the Xbox computer-game system were able to relate quickly “to this very sophisticated radar operation system.”
Reported the magazine: “This system is a little more complicated than a quick match of Call of Duty or Battlefield 3, however. JLENS has four main components: aerostats, radars, mooring stations, and a processing station. The aerostats are the unmanned blimps. Each stretches 242 feet long and nearly as wide, and is tethered to mooring stations.”
The magazine said the two aerostats “work as a pair (called an orbit) and fly at an altitude of 10,000 feet.”
“One aerostat carries a surveillance radar that offers over-the-horizon, 24-hour, 360-degree surveillance up to 34 miles in any direction The second blimp houses a fire-control radar, which signals interceptors to an incoming threat and works with Patriot missiles and Standard Missile-6.”