The FBI is using a small fleet of low-flying planes or drones carrying many varieties of surveillance technology to watch over the American people.
The drones carry cameras and sometimes cellphone surveillance. All this information is then sent to government computers, but the FBI claims they only use this data for specific, ongoing investigations.
According to a review by the Associated Press, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states over 30 days. The report also mentioned that the planes were registered under 13 fake companies such as FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR, Aviation, and PXW Services. The FBI says it uses fictitious companies to protect the safety of the pilots. It also keeps the identity of the aircraft anonymous so that potential suspects do not know that they are being monitored by the FBI.
Officials have said that Justice Department lawyers approved the decision to create fake companies to use as a front to protect the drones’ operational security.
The drones are flown around without a court order, but are overlooked by the Department of Justice. Aerial surveillance provides many new opportunities for law enforcement to prevent crimes and terrorism.
FBI spokesperson Christopher Allen said the bureau’s use of drones is no surprise, and described the secrecy as “protected for operational security purposes.”
Many people are worried that these drones could infringe on people’s individual rights. Courts cannot create a consensus that the FBI has to comply with when low-flying planes are flown around without a court order.
Basic aspects of the program are kept secret from the public through censored versions of reports from the Justice Department.
Freshman Christopher Graetzig said, “It’s shocking that the FBI is watching us. I understand that this type of surveillance can be helpful in ongoing investigations, but they don’t need 115 planes to watch criminals. They are obviously watching innocent citizens as well. With no judiciary restrictions, there are no boundaries for what this technology can be used for and that is a scary thought.”
One specific technology is a “cell-site simulator.” This can trick a cellphone into using a plane as a cell tower by giving the plane its 10 digit identification number. They can also use your cellphones to track you to learn where you are or where you have been.
Allen said that the FBI’s drones “are not equipped, designed, or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”
The FBI also occasionally helps local police with aerial support such as during the recent disturbance in Baltimore that followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
Freshman Reenal Patel said, “I don’t really feel comfortable with drones flying around in the sky and watching me. This footage could potentially be used against me in the future. Drones will make me especially very self-conscious in the public.”
It’s still not clear what the FBI is doing with data they are collecting. What we know is that planes have been spotted over many major cities like Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and Houston.
How do you feel about the FBI using drones on U.S. civilians?