San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Tuesday, demanding answers about how and why it loans out its Predator drones to other law enforcement agencies across the country.
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. But recent news articles as well as a report from DHS itself show CBP is expanding its surveillance work, flying Predator drone missions on behalf of a diverse group of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies – including a county sheriff's department in North Dakota, the Texas Rangers, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Defense.
EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for more information about these drone flights, but DHS has yet to respond to the request. EFF's lawsuit asks for an immediate response, including records and logs of CBP drone flights conducted in conjunction with other agencies.
"We've seen bits and pieces of information on CBP's Predator drones, but Americans deserve the full story," said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. "Drones are a powerful surveillance tool that can be used to gather extensive data about you and your activities. The public needs to know more about how and why these Predator drones are being used to watch U.S. citizens."
Also on Tuesday, EFF filed a second FOIA lawsuit with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), demanding the latest data on certifications and authorizations the agency has issued for public drone flights in the U.S. After EFF filed its first lawsuit in January, the FAA agreed to turn over similar data, and that process is still ongoing. But the agency's slow response has meant that much of the information is outdated long before EFF receives it, and without a new request, records from most of 2012 would not be included.
"FAA's foot-dragging means we can't get a real-time picture of drone activity in the U.S.," said Lynch. "If officials could release their records in a timely fashion – or publish it as a matter of routine on the FAA website – we could stop filing these FOIA requests and lawsuits."
For more about drones and privacy:
Electronic Frontier Foundation