Archive for December 4th, 2012

From foreign conflict to domestic surveillance: adapting drones for stateside skies

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm by

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.

Government Accountability
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.

News Digest 12/04/12

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

Detainee’s death pronounced suicide, but details remain murky

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 7:14 am by

In September, Yemeni citizen Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif died at Guantanamo Bay after 10 years of imprisonment without charge. The New York Times reported last Wednesday, November 28 that US military medical examiners concluded that his death was a suicide via overdose on psychiatric medication. Yet, as psychologist Jeff Kaye explains, the determination raises more questions than it answers.

Which drugs were involved, and how many? How were they delivered (orally? subcutaneously?)? And what were the precise circumstances leading up to the overdose? Is there a possibility that his overdose was accidental, or a possibility that others were involved? No information has been released about whether Latif was administered any medication prior to his death. Nor has the autopsy itself been released. Yemen authorities have been pushing for more information since Latif’s death, yet the facts that have been released are, according to the New York Times, “murky.”

Latif’s death is not the first at Guantanamo, nor the first to be pronounced a suicide.  In 2006, three Gitmo prisoners died suddenly and violently, and the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service pronounced their deaths to be suicides after a two year investigation. The finding was initially difficult to question, as the NCIS initially refused to disclose its report. Yet parts of the report were later made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and careful analysis revealed that the official report of suicide was implausible. Moreover, four members of Military Intelligence came forward with stories that contradicted the official report, as well as evidence that “authorities initiated a cover-up within hours of the prisoners’ deaths.”

Given this background, it is little wonder why many observers are seeking more information about Latif’s death. Jeff Kaye has raised the concern that Latif’s death might have been due to covert drug administration or accidental death via “polypharmacy“: the prescription of too great a quantity of drugs and/or a hazardous combination of drugs. The Pentagon has, after all, been criticized for polypharmacy before.

Kaye also calls attention to the fact that “chemical restraints” (i.e. forcibly injected drugs)–were used on Latif “on numerous instances” at Guantanamo. Truthout and blogger Marcy Wheeler have jointly filed a FOIA request seeking Latif’s medical records, with the aim of determining whether Latif was administered drugs in the hours prior to his death. Much more information is needed; the fact that a detainee died of a drug overdose hardly indicates suicide.