ACLU Uncovers U.S. Marshal's Drone Project

Through a Freedom of Information request, the ACLU has obtained documents about a U.S. Marshal's experimental project to employ the use of drones for domestic surveillance. The documents are here. One states:

USMS Technical Operations Group's UAV Program provides a highly portable, rapidly deployable overhead collection device that will provide a multi-role surveillance platform to assist in [redacted] detection of targets.


Another states:

This developmental program is designed to provide [redacted] in support of TOG [presumably the agency’s Technical Operations Group] investigations and operations. This surveillance solution can be deployed during [multiple redactions] to support ongoing tactical operations.

This does not appear to be a current program.

These heavily redacted documents reveal almost no information about the nature of the Marshals’ drone program. However, the Marshals Service explained to the Los Angeles Times that they tested two small drones in 2004 and 2005. The experimental program ended after both drones crashed.

We need limits on the use of drones. A bi-partisan bill was recently introduced to do just that. The ACLU says:

The proposed legislation, which is supported by the ACLU, would enact judicial and Congressional oversight mechanisms, require government agencies to register all drones and get a warrant when using them for surveillance (except in emergency situations), and prohibit the domestic use of armed drones.

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    Filling in the blanks (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by sj on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 03:04:39 PM EST
    This surveillance solution can be deployed during [multiple redactions] to support ongoing tactical operations.

    multiple redactions: Occupy demonstrations, Anti-war demonstrations, political convention protests, other civilian protests and demonstrations.

    Yes, perhaps they can be fitted (none / 0) (#16)
    by desertswine on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 10:27:36 PM EST
    with tear gas or pepper spray cannisters to shoot at the unruly crowds.

    U.S. Marshals "tactical operations" (none / 0) (#17)
    by Peter G on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 11:02:29 PM EST
    are to catch federal fugitives and to guard/protect federal courthouse facilities.  The only demonstrations they would police would be demos at courthouses.

    I guess I would be (none / 0) (#18)
    by sj on Thu Feb 28, 2013 at 09:27:14 AM EST
    reassured if I wasn't so alarmed at the militarization of police at all levels -- even local levels.  That might be their -- charter or whatever -- but boundaries are being stepped over everywhere.

    Because why would they need drones to guard courthouse facilities?  I hope there is an almost logical answer to that.


    I can't think of one. (none / 0) (#19)
    by Peter G on Thu Feb 28, 2013 at 11:17:50 AM EST
    Logical?  No, not that I can conceive, unless it's somehow related, in theory, to tracking and capturing fugitives.

    Congressional Oversight Isn't Enough (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 03:32:01 PM EST
    They need legislation that clearly states what they can be used for and what they can't, and the penalties for violating the guidelines.

    Congress has proven it is incapable of oversight of anything related to the 4th Amendment and privacy.  Without clear rules, the program will shift in favor of the government over time, that oversight will be nearly non-existent and no one will know what they are actually doing.

    I don't understand why all the secrecy, if you are going to look for terrorists, state so, if you are going to tail suspected drug dealers, state that is your intention.  Let the people judge what is acceptable and what crosses the line. To me the only reason for secrecy is to do stuff that that they know the citizens would not approve.   Plus it allows violations without any real penalty, the need for secrecy always outweighs the need for accountability.

    Yeah, good luck with that... (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Anne on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 03:57:06 PM EST
    this will be another one of those programs that everyone knows we have, but the government won't acknowledge so they can claim there's nothing to regulate.  Why would they need warrants for something that doesn't exist?  

    "Secrets and lies" might as well be the new motto of this country.

    Just asking........ (none / 0) (#4)
    by NYShooter on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 04:18:02 PM EST
    What is the difference between using drones, and planes/helicopters? Or, any other surveillance equipment being used today, for that matter?

    If it doesn't have to carry a pilot... (none / 0) (#5)
    by unitron on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 04:23:40 PM EST
    ...or any other aircrew, it's a lot cheaper to build and to fuel.

    They get lost all the time (none / 0) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 04:31:09 PM EST
    You lose signal with them for some reason and they gone.  It has many challenges over a piloted aircraft, control being a huge one.

    They won't be very easy or efficient (none / 0) (#6)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 04:27:24 PM EST
    According to spouse you just can't fly drones all over the US willy nilly because we are an amazing mass of flight paths and corridors.  He said the FAA really wants nothing to do with it.  It will increase all sorts of risk and they have all they can manage right now.

    thanks for all these responses, but (none / 0) (#8)
    by NYShooter on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 05:15:39 PM EST
    I meant, what are the personal privacy issues involved and are they, somehow, different than those other means of surveillence?

    One difference is size. You know if a plane (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by caseyOR on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 05:57:11 PM EST
    or a helicopter is buzzing around. Drones can be quite small. One could be hovering over your back yard without you realizing it. That cannot happen with a helicopter.

    Also, drones are more quiet than either planes or helicopters. This makes drones better tools for listening in on our conversations, once again without our knowledge.

    These are two things that make the use of drones, IMO, much more insidious.


    I was just reading the other day (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by shoephone on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 07:10:47 PM EST
    that the defense/police state has already developed very small drones that resemble birds and insects, so that they could be hovering fifty feet above you, clocking your every move and you won't even know you've been had. Supposedly, they have not been put into use yet, but why should I believe that?

    my thoughts also (none / 0) (#12)
    by NYShooter on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 06:00:56 PM EST
    see my post #10

    I hear ya... (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 05:31:33 PM EST
    the cat is out the bag baby.

    It's just a new creepier level...little is known about how the flying spybots are being used. The freedom of redacted information act...

    The new enhanced surveillance capabilities mean new illegal surveillance capabilities, and new legal challenges thanks to the ACLU and defense attorneys.

    The judiciary...well we know how they lean in regards to civil liberties lately.


    Yeah, there ya go (none / 0) (#10)
    by NYShooter on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 05:55:39 PM EST
    You need a search warrant from a judge to invade a person's personal life, but this drone business sounds like another step in the government's march towards around-the-clock, 24/7, "prior restraint" kind of surveillance.

    We know from all the "stings" and entrapments they've used in their war on "terra," that it's the "appearance" of  action, not real, valuable action that counts. So, how long will it be before a "Zone Commander" yells at his scope-hunched, joystick operators, "Hey, you've been searching all day and haven't nailed anyone yet? I guess Crime has been wiped out where you work. You guys better start doing your jobs a little more eagerly, or next year there won't be any jobs."

    Not too farfetched, if you ask me.  


    I double hear ya... (none / 0) (#13)
    by kdog on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 06:15:38 PM EST
    I can't wait to get my first summons from a drone!  It's so Demolition Man.

    Que bueno Kperro... (none / 0) (#15)
    by fishcamp on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 08:01:54 PM EST