, the Electronic Privacy Information Center:
New records obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection is operating drones in the United States capable of intercepting electronic communications. The records also suggest that the ten Predator B drones operated by the agency have the capacity to recognize and identify a person on the ground. Approximately, 2/3 of the US population is subject to surveillance by the CBP drones. The documents were provided in response to a request from EPIC for information about the Bureau's use of drones across the country. The agency has made the Predator drones available to other federal, state, and local agencies. The records obtained by EPIC raise questions abut the agency's compliance with federal privacy laws and the scope of domestic surveillance. For more information, see EPIC: Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Drones.
This one of those issues that tends to get framed in a misleading fashion. The American people are told: Yes, drones are being used in the U.S. -- but only for border patrol. You're in favor of border patrols, aren't you?
And then we learn that those same drones can read the emails of two thirds
of the population. You know damned well that all of that info is going straight into the NSA's supercomputers.
Last December, Naomi Wolf
(writing in the Guardian) filed an excellent report on the droning of America:
30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirds – meaning that you won't necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs.
In other words, the Pentagon can now send a domestic drone to hover outside your apartment window, collecting footage of you and your family, if the secretary of Defense approves it. Or it may track you and your friends and pick up audio of your conversations, on your way, say, to protest or vote or talk to your representative, if you are not "specifically identified", a determination that is so vague as to be meaningless.
What happens to those images, that audio? "Distribution of domestic imagery" can go to various other government agencies without your consent, and that imagery can, in that case, be distributed to various government agencies; it may also include your most private moments and most personal activities.
"I don't think it's crazy to worry about weaponized drones. There is a real consensus that has emerged against allowing weaponized drones domestically. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended against it," warns Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU, noting that there is already political pressure in favor of weaponization:
"At the same time, it is inevitable that we will see [increased] pressure to allow weaponized drones. The way that it will unfold is probably this: somebody will want to put a relatively 'soft' nonlethal weapon on a drone for crowd control. And then things will ratchet up from there."
Perhaps this is one of those issues that can serve as a meeting ground between left-wing activists and right-wing conspiraholics. The Guardian and the Alex Jones websites do not have a terribly different attitude toward our growing fleet of spies-in-the-sky.
Alas, to judge from the comments below Wolf's article, the right remains fixated on gun ownership -- as though that's
the solution. I doubt that a semi-automatic will somehow prevent a hummingbird drone from reading your email.
Lots of people in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan own Big Damn Guns. Even though Yemenites in rural areas can barely feed themselves, they all possess AK47s and cognate weaponry. And to what end? Their armaments have proven useless when the "death-from-above" machines go a-hunting.
Last year, Charles Krauthammer
said "The first guy who uses a weapon to bring down a drone that's hovering over his house is going to become a folk hero in this country." I agree. But realistically speaking, a domestic drone war cannot be fought and won on that level.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: We need strong privacy legislation
. That's the real answer. We must not buy into the argument that the threats posed by terrorists and pedophiles justify our ever-more-oppressive surveillance state. And we must ruthlessly denigrate the fools who bray those infamous words: "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."