MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (June 4, 2020) – United States Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) flew an unarmed Predator drone over the streets of Minneapolis to surveil protesters in the wake George Floyd’s death last week. This is a prime example of how the federal surveillance state expands without any meaningful limits in place.

Federal authorities said the drone was deployed “to provide situational awareness.”

“Earlier today a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations unmanned aircraft system was preparing to provide live video to aid in situational awareness at the request of our federal law enforcement partners in Minneapolis,” a spokesperson for CBP told Recode in an email. “The unmanned aircraft system provides live video feed to ground law enforcement, giving them situational awareness, maximizing public safety, while minimizing the threat to personnel and assets.”

It remains unclear what type of surveillance technology the CBP drone carried. According to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, drones can be equipped with various types of surveillance equipment that can collect high definition video and still images day and night. Drones can be equipped with technology allowing them to intercept cell phone calls, determine GPS locations, and gather license plate information. Drones can be used to determine whether individuals are carrying guns. Synthetic-aperture radar can identify changes in the landscape, such as footprints and tire tracks. Some drones are even equipped with facial recognition.

It is highly likely that the drone recorded extremely detailed information on protesters that will enable law enforcement officers to identify them. It is also likely that this information has been stored in permanent databases accessible to state, local and federal law enforcement agencies through fusion centers and the Information Sharing Environment (ISE).

ACLU senior legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani condemned the use of the drone, saying the CBP had no role in what was happening in Minneapolis.

“This rogue agency’s use of military technology to surveil protesters inside US borders is deeply disturbing, especially given CBP’s lack of clear and strong policies to protect privacy and constitutional rights.”

CBP ostensibly patrols the border. Minneapolis lies nearly 300 miles from the Canadian border. So, why was a CBP drone spying on protesters in the city?

Apparently, the agency often partners with other law enforcement agencies to perform non-border patrol policing. The CPB spokesperson told Recode that the agency “routinely conducts operations with other federal, state, and local law enforcement entities to assist law enforcement and humanitarian relief efforts.” According to Vox, officials did not reveal the specific law enforcement agency that requested the drone to monitor the Minneapolis protests.

This reveals the intertwined nature of the police state in the U.S. Jurisdictional and agency jurisdictions have been virtually erased by the progressive federalization of policing for the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror.”

It also reveals how the surveillance state expands. According to reporting by Recode’s Shirin Ghaffary, the CBP has deployed military surveillance drones at the border since 2006. With no meaningful limits on drone surveillance, we now have those same military UAVs flying over a protest hundreds of miles from the border. This proves warnings about surveillance mission-creep should be heeded. If we allow the government to operate invasive surveillance technology without limits, there will literally be no limits to the level of spying the government will subject us to.


Mike Maharrey

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