As biometric data sharing and warrantless wiretapping invade increasingly into Americans’ privacy, the feds evaluate further measures to reinforce the police state. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently released a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS), known more infamously as “drones,” in tactical law enforcement and crime-scene surveillance.
The Department’s PIA delineates principles to guide SUAS operations as they concern personally identifiable information (PII). DHS also contemplates publicly beneficial operations for SUAS, such as disaster relief and rescue. However, precarious patterns in information collection among federal agencies raise crucial concerns about our privacy rights under winged watchers.
If integrating SUAS into first-responder protocols, then DHS should ensure that local law enforcement agencies comply with the PIA’s recommendations in order to preserve our civil liberties.
The PIA on drones in American airspace mandates notice to a targeted individual “regarding…collection, use, dissemination, and maintenance of PII”. The recent scandal surrounding former CIA director David Petraeus, as well as a series of warrantless wiretapping cases, signify the necessity of due process in domestic surveillance operations. Secret surveillance chills freedom of speech, restricts liberty, and fosters distrust between We the People and our state. DHS, the organization charged with our security, should not execute protocols that undermine its stated purpose.
The PIA further mandates that there “be no system the existence of which is a secret.” This recommendation responds directly to the inscrutable nature of drone strike programs in Pakistan and Yemen. Despite contemptible civilian casualty counts, the death of American citizens, and suspect legal justification, the Obama administration maintains obscure powers of extrajudicial execution. President Obama himself presides over a secret ‘kill list’, making the final determination on whether or not to execute an ‘individual of interest’. DHS must perform open drone operations and ensure that Americans’ fundamental liberties remain undisturbed.
Restricting the Collection and Distribution of PII
The Department’s PIA also establishes pillars to limit the use and circulation of PII relevant to a specified purpose. These recommendations will limit the unnecessary and intrusive retention of private individuals’ personal information, as well as increase the efficiency of critical SUAS tasks. It also addresses the recklessness of traditional drone applications such as “signature strikes,” which render individuals guilty-by-association until posthumously proven innocent. DHS must not practice such deplorable indiscretion in domestic SUAS applications, and collect PII only for legitimate and legally sound first-responder protocol.
Presently, extensive surveillance authority in intelligence and security agencies enables vast collection and nearly unchecked dissemination of PII. In the interests of efficient, effective operations and Americans’ privacy, DHS must comply with PIA standards for collecting, using, and maintaining personal data.
Ultimately, the PIA recommends oversight for SUAS operations and liability for civil liberties violations. Dubious claims of state secrecy must not preclude Americans’ right to redress. Additionally, considerations of accuracy and pertinence should inform what records government agencies actually retain.
Considering the US legacy of drone strikes overseas, SUAS in American skies could extend the trend towards police militarization and a surveillance state. Even full compliance with PIA guidelines may not adequately protect Americans’ privacy rights. The only way for those to be fully secured may be to engage local and national officials to secure transparency in drone operations.