Congress has directed the Secretary of Defense to report on the handling of surveillance data collected by military unmanned aerial systems operating in domestic airspace. A provision in the 2013 continuing appropriations conference bill approved by the House yesterday explained:
“The conferees are aware of concerns that have been raised regarding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and their sensors in domestic airspace. The conferees understand that the Air Force has policies and procedures in place governing the disposition of UAV collections that may inadvertently capture matters of concern to law enforcement agencies. These policies and procedures are designed to ensure constitutional protections and proper separation between the military and law enforcement. However, it is unclear if other Services and Defense agencies have similar policies and procedures in place, or if these policies and procedures need to be revised or standardized. Therefore, the conferees direct the Secretary of Defense to report to the congressional defense committees on the policies and procedures in place across the Services and Defense agencies governing the use of such collections and to identify any additional steps that need to be taken to ensure that such policies and procedures are adequate and consistent across the Department of Defense. This report shall be submitted not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act.”
The referenced Air Force policy on incidental collection of U.S. person data by its drones was reported in USAF Drones May Conduct ‘Incidental’ Domestic Surveillance, Secrecy News, May 8, 2012.
The use of unmanned aerial systems for surveillance and targeted killing of American citizens has galvanized political attention to a degree that seems wildly out of proportion to the objective data that are available. But that political attention itself creates a new objective reality.
Sen. Rand Paul conducted a nearly 13 hour filibuster on the Senate floor yesterday in an effort to compel an official answer to the question of whether non-combatant U.S. citizens could be lethally targeted by drone in the United States. (The answer, the attorney general said today, is no.) The text of the marathon floor discussion, which included many interesting and substantive points, is available here.
On Tuesday, a bill was introduced by Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) “to protect individual privacy against unwarranted governmental intrusion through the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles commonly called drones” (HR 972).