Gun-Detecting, Eavesdropping Drones Wanted by Homeland Security

Wednesday, 06 Mar 2013 02:27 PM

By Michael Mullins

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A fleet of 10 unarmed drones is already in use by Customs and Border Patrol of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and more apparently are on the way. Privacy advocates are upset that the government wants the drones to be able to identify civilians carrying guns and to track cell phone signals.

The DHS has for years employed drones equipped with sensors and day-and-night cameras across the U.S.-Mexican border to monitor the nation's border crossings at a reported cost of $250 million to maintain and operate. Other government agencies frequently request that the drones be loaned for other missions, and law enforcement agencies tracking fugitives would like to know if such people are armed and what they may be saying to others.

According to, the first domestic use of a drone involving an arrest occurred last year in the small town of Lakota, N.D., when rancher Rodney Brossart was held for refusing to return six of his neighbor’s cows that had wandered on to his property.

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Documents obtained last week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center reveal that DHS specifies that the Predator B drones "shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not" and must be equipped with "interception" systems that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios, according to

That news has triggered concerns that the drones represent a threat to law-abiding gun owners and the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.

"I am very concerned that this technology will be used against law-abiding American firearms owners," said founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation Alan Gottlieb on "This could violate Fourth Amendment rights as well as Second Amendment rights."

Privacy concerns were raised by Ginger McCall, director of the Open Government Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"The documents clearly evidence that the Department of Homeland Security is developing drones with signals interception technology and the capability to identify people on the ground," McCall said. "This allows for invasive surveillance, including potential communications surveillance, that could run afoul of federal privacy laws."

However, Customs and Border Protection said it was not deploying signals interception capabilities on its unmanned aircraft systems fleet.

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"Any potential deployment of such technology in the future would be implemented in full consideration of civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy interests and in a manner consistent with the law and long-standing law enforcement practices," the agency said in a statement.

Related stories:

FAA: No Armed Drones Permitted in US

Fox Poll: Most Americans Support Use of Drones

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