A newly discovered Air Force intelligence brief states that should fleets of unmanned drones accidentally capture surveillance footage of Americans, the data can be stored and analyzed by the Pentagon for up to 90 days.
The instruction, dated April 23, admits that the Air Force cannot legally conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans, but also states that should the drones”incidentally” capture data while conducting other missions, military intelligence has the right to study it to determine whether the subjects are legitimate targets of domestic surveillance.
“Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent,” the instruction states.
The Air Force can take advantage of “a period not to exceed 90 days” to use the data to assess “whether that information may be collected under the provisions of Procedure 2, DoD 5240.1-R and permanently retained under the provisions of Procedure 3, DoD 5240.1-R.” it continues.
The Pentagon directives cited authorize limited domestic spying in certain scenarios such as natural disasters, environmental cases, and monitoring activity around military bases.
Should the drones capture data on Americans, the Air Force says that it should determine whether they are, among other things, “persons or organizations reasonably believed to be engaged or about to engage, in international terrorist or international narcotics activities.”
A d v e r t i s e m e n t
The instruction also states that the Pentagon can disseminate the data to other intelligence and government agencies, should it see fit.
“Even though information may not be collectible, it may be retained for the length of time necessary to transfer it to another DoD entity or government agency to whose function it pertains.” the document reads.
The document was discovered by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.
As we reported in February, Over 30 prominent watchdog groups have banded together to petition the FAA on the proposed increase in the use of drones in US airspace.
The groups, including The American Civil Liberties Union, The Electronic Privacy Information Center and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, are demanding that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats.
Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.
The ACLU noted that the FAA’s legislation “would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”
In addition to privacy concerns, the groups warned that the ability to link facial recognition technology to surveillance drones and patch the information through to active government databases would “increase the First Amendment risks for would be political dissidents.”