CNET reports on the development of customized Predator drones used by the Department of Homeland Security for identifying gun-carrying individuals and tracking cellular phones.
Predator drones are currently used across the U.S.’ north and south national borders, and have been “loaned” to a growing number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI and local police.
Documents released under a Freedom of Information Act request shed light on the future capabilities of Custom and Border Patrol’s fleet of drones. Of particular worry is the ability to identify and track individual mobile conversations.
Homeland Security’s specifications for its drones, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, say they “shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not,” meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify “signals interception” technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and “direction finding” technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection are not deploying signals interception yet. However,
“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,” says Ginger McCall, director of the Open Government Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “This allows for invasive surveillance, including potential communications surveillance, that could run afoul of federal privacy laws.”