USAF Drones May Conduct “Incidental” Domestic Surveillance

U.S. Air Force policy permits the incidental collection of domestic imagery by unmanned aerial systems (drones), but ordinarily would not allow targeted surveillance of a U.S. person.  The Air Force policy was restated in a newly reissued instruction on oversight of Air Force intelligence.

“Air Force Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations, exercise and training missions will not conduct nonconsensual surveillance on specifically identified US persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense, consistent with US law and regulations,” the instruction stated.

On the other hand, “Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent.”

“Collecting information on specific targets inside the US raises policy and legal concerns that require careful consideration, analysis and coordination with legal counsel.  Therefore, Air Force components should use domestic imagery only when there is a justifiable need to do so, and then only IAW [in accordance with] EO 12333, the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, DoD 5240.1-R, and this instruction,” it said.

Legally valid requirements for domestic imagery, the instruction said, include surveillance of natural disasters, environmental studies, system testing and training, and also counterintelligence and security-related vulnerability assessments. Air Force units are authorized to acquire domestic commercial imagery for such validated purposes.

However, “Air Force intelligence components must not conduct or give the appearance of conducting collection, exploitation or dissemination of commercial imagery or imagery associated products for other than approved mission purposes.”  See “Oversight of Intelligence Activities,” Air Force Instruction 14-104, April 23, 2012.

Another new Air Force Instruction deals with the basic operation of Small Unmanned Aerial Systems in domestic and foreign environments.  Among other things, it recommends caution in the use of non-uniformed personnel in conducting drone combat missions.

“To ensure the noncombatant status of civilians and contractors is not jeopardized, commanders shall consult with their servicing judge advocate office for guidance before using civilian or contractor personnel in combat operations or other missions involving direct participation in hostilities,” the instruction advised.  See “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations,” Air Force Instruction 11-502, volume 3, April 26, 2012.

In its new mark of the FY2013 defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee is proposing to provide the Air Force with even more money than it requested for its Predator and Reaper drone programs.  See “Congress Funds Killer Drones the Air Force Says It Can’t Handle” by Spencer Ackerman, Wired Danger Room, May 7, 2012.

5 thoughts on “USAF Drones May Conduct “Incidental” Domestic Surveillance

  1. The law will not protect civil liberties. We are past that point. It is the technology that must be controlled, and prevented from coming into existence, if it is of the type that can be abused in ways that we regard as unacceptable, notwithstanding any theoretically beneficial use it may have. Prevention is better than cure. Otherwise, once the technical cat is out of the bag, the jig is up. Any notion along the lines of “we, human beings, as a species are capable of exercising enlightened control over our inventions” is so preposterous that it does not warrant further comment. Democratic control over the development of technology is the supreme issue of our time. Of course it is not raised in any serious way in any election campaign. Perhaps the idea of applying some form of the precautionary principle to technology as a whole is a sheer pipe dream, but if you think so then be prepared for the consequences and do not complain about what happens as a result.

  2. These types of abuses and outrages against the American people will continue and likely increase as long the the terminally corrupt political machine known as the Republican/Democrat party maintain complete control. If “We the People” are unwilling to remove them from power then “We the People” deserve everything they are and will do to us.

  3. “Just paint a hand with middle finger extended on your roof…”

    Remember…they have the GPS coordinates for everyone’s home address. ;-)

    Check out the sensor capabilities of light plane overflights, not to mention drones…etc.

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