By Bob Livingston
|The U.S. military is using surveillance drones over dozens of foreign countries, so it should come as no surprise that surveillance drones are also patrolling the skies over America.
America is spy state. There is little we can do and less we can say anymore that isn’t watched and recorded by someone — or multiple someones — somewhere.
Back in 2016, USA Today reported that the Pentagon “has deployed drones to spy over U.S. territory for non-military missions over the past decade.” The admission came from a report filed by a Pentagon inspector general who stated the flights are “rare and lawful.” It turns out neither is the case.
The U.S. military trains its drone pilots in the U.S. That means that hundreds of U.S. military-style drones are being flown over American citizens every year. And since the drones military drone pilots will be flying over areas of operation contain visual and auditory surveillance capabilities, as well as a myriad of weapons systems, there is little doubt those drones are at least casually snooping on Americans.
These training operations are going on eight hours a day, five days a week, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
According to media reports from several years ago, the military anticipated it would have about 200 drones operating out of 105 airbases in the U.S. by 2015. Doubtless there are far more now. That doesn’t sound “rare” to me. Despite extensive research, I was unable to find a definitive figure for an “official” tally of the number of military drones operating over America… not that the official number would be in any way accurate. Government lies to us about everything all the time.
The Border Patrol has used drones for years to watch for illegals and smuggling operations. It has the largest fleet of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for domestic surveillance of any government agency. It uses at least nine Predator drones equipped with night-vision technology and long-range cameras capable of reading license plates, or did as far back as 2013, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor. Some reports indicate Border Patrol may have 24 or more operating today.
The ACLU claims Border Patrol’s drones also have see-through imaging technology — the ability to peer through walls and into vehicles — along with facial recognition technology linked to federal databases. Unlike the military drones used for killing people in countries in which the U.S. is fighting wars, the Border Patrol’s don’t fire missiles, or at least the Border patrol says they won’t.
Border Patrol has also been making its drones available to local police departments since around 2010.
The FBI has also used drones for many years. In 2013, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller — now President Donald Trump persecutor — admitted to Congress that the FBI was using drones for domestic surveillance operations. He also admitted the FBI got assistance from and shared information with other federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and National Security Agency.
Police departments across the country are also looking to get in on the drone action. They claim they would only use them to find missing persons and similar search missions. For around $50,000 — about the cost of a new police cruiser — law enforcement agencies can procure a drone capable of mass surveillance and with the ability to fire both lethal and non-lethal ammunition.
North Dakota police, thanks to a law passed in 2015, can use drones to shoot people. President Barack Obama granted the CIA permission to assassinate an American citizen — the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — on foreign soil. al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son (also a U.S. citizen) and another man were killed by a CIA drone.
From killing Americans without due process overseas to killing them in America is a short leap indeed, and one we should all be concerned about. Even supposed libertarian-leaning Republican Senator Rand Paul has indicated he would be OK with law enforcement using drones to neutralize (read kill) a suspect considered dangerous.
Police claim they won’t abuse their new aerial toys by spying on people or harming them. “We’re not going to use it to be invading somebody’s privacy. It’ll be used for situations we have with criminals,” Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Gage told his local television station in a report from 2012.
But according to the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, suspects aren’t “criminals” until they’ve been convicted of a crime. The police by and large long ago determined that 5th Amendment — and the 4th — doesn’t matter. That is seen by the number of unarmed and innocent people killed by police each year… numbers in the hundreds.
Last summer Congress considered a bill pushed by DHS that would give the agency the ability to “track,” “disrupt,” “control,” “seize or otherwise confiscate” any drone that the government deems to be a “threat,” without a warrant or due process. DHS and DOJ might interpret this vague and overbroad language to include the power to stop journalists from using drones to document government malfeasance, according to EFF.
The government loves to spy on us but doesn’t like having the tables turned.
While government wants “legal authority” to shoot down our drones, it is unlawful for us to shoot down any drones — even privately-owned drones — spying on you above your own property, according to federal law, which treats drones like other aircraft.
Government believes it owns the skies — even the skies around your house — and created a federal agency to oversee the ownership: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to federal law 18 USC § 32:
(1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce;
…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.
The law does allow the shooting down of drones in self-defense: if it is trying to ram into you or someone else or if it is armed with a weapon.
A Kentucky man who came to be known as the Drone Slayer was arrested after he shot down a drone that was hovering over his teenage daughter who was sunbathing in the backyard. Criminal charges were later dropped, but he continues to face the possibility of a civil suit over the $1,800 photography drone he destroyed.
According to lawyers, if a drone is flying around or over your property and refuses to stop you should look into legal ordinances to see to if the operator is violating peeping tom, nuisance, noise or invasion of privacy laws. If one of these has been violated, you can complain to police. You also may take civil action to get it to stop and be compensated for any damages you can prove.
Unsurprisingly, a company has created a handheld direct-energy weapon, called a Batelle Drone Defender Counter-UAS device, which will disable a drone by interfering with its control system. Also unsurprisingly, the weapon is still illegal for civilian use but is being tested for military applications.