Despite renewed criticism from both parties in Congress that domestic drones pose a privacy danger to US citizens—and a report from its own Inspector General recommending to stop buying them—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has indicated it wants to more than double its fleet of Predator drones used to fly surveillance missions inside the United States.
While many people may think the US only flies Predator drones overseas, DHS has already spent $250 million over the last six years on ten surveillance Predators of its own. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—a division of DHS—uses the unmanned drones inside the U.S. to patrol the borders with surveillance equipment like video cameras, infrared cameras, heat sensors, and radar.
They say the drones are vital in the fight to stop illegal immigrants, but as EFF reported in June, the DHS Inspector General issued a report faulting DHS for wasting time, money, and resources using drones that were ineffective and lacked oversight.
Perhaps worse, DHS is also flying Predator drone missions on behalf of a diverse group of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies for missions beyond immigration issues. We know they have lent the drones out to the county sheriff’s department in North Dakota and the Texas Rangers, among others, but unfortunately, we don’t know the full extent DHS lending program. DHS, as is their custom, is keeping that information secret.
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