Domestic Drones Cometh: Report Exposes Rapid Expansion of Surveillance Flights

The U.S. government has quietly expanded its use of unmanned surveillance drones inside the country to the extent that now half of the nearly 2,000 mile border with Mexico is monitored by military drones that were once reserved for foreign battlefields, according to new reporting by the Associated Press.

The proliferation of domestic drones has long been a concern for those dismayed about how such weapons have been used in the warzones of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Defenders of civil liberty have said that the expanded use of surveillance drones for domestice purposes—including border patrol or local law enforcement—puts the nation on a slippery slope in which the normalization of such machines charts a worrying path towards a society constantly under watchful eyes from above.

The news agency cites government officials with direct knowledge of the program and reports that the secretive border patrol program—internall- referred to as operation “change detection”—has operated 10,000 or more drone missions over large, mostly remote sections of the U.S-Mexico border since it began with little or no public fanfare in March of 2013.

According to AP:

The ACLU has been among those groups tracking and warning against the proliferation of domestic drones in recent years. In 2011, the group released a report (pdf) documenting the push for increased drone surveillance and how such an expansion would “profoundly change the character of public life in America.”

Though the group acknowledges there may be some societal benefits to drone technology, it strongly warned against any expansion that would be bring the U.S. closer to becoming  a “surveillance society” in which people’s every move “is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government.”

Asked by AP about such privacy concerns, Lothar Eckardt, the executive director of national air security operations for the Customs and Border Protection agency, said because the cameras currently being used aren’t powerful enough to register faces or even licence plate details from the sky, “law-abiding people shouldn’t worry.”

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