Predator Drones Get Domestic Surveillance Tech from DHS; Privacy Concern Arises

March 5, 2013, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

Not long ago, the sky was filled with just clouds and stars, but it looks like the Homeland Security doesn’t want to keep it that way anymore. They have initiated domestic surveillance through predator drones.

Uh oh, people with privacy concerns are surely going to be mad. While it is unlikely that you’ll get to see these drones, it can be spooky to know that some mechanical thing is monitoring us at all times.

Predator drones were originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks and it should have stayed there for that purpose, say civil libertarians.


On the pro side, these drones are now able to identify civilians carrying guns and have the ability to track their cell phones. These drones are being built by the San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

They also specify “signals interception” technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and “direction finding” technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.

Last year, DHS had signed a contract with General Atomics that could be worth as much as $443 million for the purchase of up to 14 additional Predator drones to fly near the border of Mexico and Canada.

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.

DHS has not publicly issued any privacy rules to make sure drones do not spy on US residents in border states. In fact, at a Congressional hearing on the subject three months ago, DHS refused to send anyone to testify, leading both parties to criticize their absence.

This is even more troubling given DHS is also leading the push to get local police agencies to purchase their own drones by handing out $4 million to agencies to “facilitate and accelerate” their use.

The FAA estimates as many as 30,000 drones could be flying over US territory by the end of the decade.

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