The ACLU’s Chris Calabrese testified yesterday before the Senate Commerce Committee in a hearing on the economic benefits and the safety, privacy, and First Amendment implications of unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — which are poised to invade U.S. airspace by 2015. The hearing came on the same day as a front-page story in the Washington Post, describing the rapid spread of this new and powerful technology among law enforcement agencies.
According to the story, based on a recent FOIA filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation , the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of the few agencies permitted to fly drones in U.S. airspace, is lending its Predator drones to other agencies eager to “borrow” them. In 2010, for example, DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) conducted 76 drone missions for other agencies. The next year, that number quadrupled, and it remained at nearly the same level in 2012. In total, CBP conducted 687 drone missions for other agencies from 2010 to 2012. According to the story, the trend has been driven by a “huge, unfed appetite among police agencies for drones and their powerful surveillance tools.”