Drone Oopsies in US Airpsace

As if on cue, Steven Aftergood just released this Air Force directive:

9.6.1. Air Force units with weapon system video and tactical ISR capabilities may collect imagery during formal and continuation training missions as long as the collected imagery is not for the purpose of obtaining information about specific US persons or private property. Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent. Imagery may not be collected for the purpose of gathering any specific information about a US person or private entity, without consent, nor may stored imagery be retrievable by reference to US person identifiers.

9.6.2. Air Force Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations, exercise and training missions will not conduct nonconsensual surveillance on specifically identified US persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense, consistent with US law and regulations. Civil law enforcement agencies, such as the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the US Coast Guard, will control any such data collected.

So while DOD drones flying over our airspace are not supposed to intentionally collect data on US persons unless the Secretary of Defense tells them to (but if the former CIA Director says it’s okay, I guess it’s okay then), if they incidentally collect information, it will be retained and/or passed onto a law enforcement agency like the FBI or ICE.

And once it gets to the FBI or ICE, the National Counterterrorism Center will get access to it. Which will allow them to data mine it with any of the other US person information they have in hand.

But don’t worry. Those six new drone test sites in the US won’t affect our privacy in the least!

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “not for the purpose of obtaining information about specific US persons or private property.”

    “Specific” US persons. “Specific” private property. That sounds like a PR hack’s language borrowed from Google’s legal defense of its mapping houses and streets at ground level in Europe and around the world. (Only the Europeans seemed to mind having their back gardens and local street corners, their license plates and faces kept in perpetuity by a private corporation with no restrictions on its use.) I also like the reference to “private property” as if there remained such a concept from the surveillance state’s perspective.

    The USAF could map all of North America, which it has done, and keep real time tab on millions of people without targeting any one of them “specifically”. It could then “focus” on specific targets of interest, however they came to be such. Then the imagery would be targeting “specific” people or property, under whatever blanket or specific authority they chose, which no one, barring possibly the FISA courts, would ever know about.

    This USAF policy might be aimed at “joy riding” by individual virtual pilots and supervisors. It won’t promote privacy in any non-Orwellian sense of the word.

  2. orionATL says:

    and so it is when our federal courts reason “reasonably” about what information our police need in order to do their job effectively, unless one argues that military jets are trespassing on his/her airspace :)

    this non-police, u.s. military directive seems one with judicial rulings regarding one’s privacy on a public street or on the internet.
    clearly, your rabbit-hole of a home is the only place you are entitled to your privacy, but only so long as you behave properly and don’t interact in any recordable way with the rest of the world.

  3. orionATL says:

    “u.s. persons” ?

    what an odd phrase – one from our government’s evesdropping vobabulary of yesteryear.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: “US persons” include US citizens and permanent residents. It’s a technical legal category for surveillance (FISA warrants purportedly required for US persons but not, for example, other legal aliens, who can also be lone wolves).

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