DHS seeks to head off domestic UAV privacy concerns


Trying to head off growing concern over the federal government potentially using drones as domestic spy vehicles, the Homeland Security Department has launched an initiative to signal privacy and civil rights issue remain at the forefront of unmanned aerial systems policy formation.

DHS's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Privacy Office will head an internal working group, along with Customs and Border Protection, "to ensure that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are not diminished by efforts, activities, and programs aimed at securing the homeland," according to a recently released departmental memo (.pdf).

CBP operates 10 Predator B drones alone the border, according to the memo, and the Coast Guard is considering buying ship-launched drones for maritime surveillance. A third program promotes use of unmanned aerial systems by state and local law enforcement.

"We think that a working group should examine all active and planned DHS uses of UASs, as well as DHS support to state and local partners in their use of UASs," write Tamara Kessler, acting officer, office of civil rights, and Jonathan Cantor, acting chief privacy officer.

Citing "significant attention" by Congress, the mainstream media and the trade press to potential privacy and civil liberties violations, Kessler and Cantor argue that forming the working group "would signal that DHS recognizes the importance of protecting privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties in the use of UASs" and plans to be proactive in protecting those rights.

According to a list (.pdf) obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Freedom Foundation, 81 "public entities" applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for UAS certificate of authentication in 2012.

Although federal agencies, the military and universities presumably planning research comprised most of the applicants, the list also included at least 20 law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

For more:
-read the DHS memo (.pdf)
-here's the list (.pdf) of drone applicants

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