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Home » Security » CBP slammed for using Predator Drone to spy on Minneapolis protests

CBP slammed for using Predator Drone to spy on Minneapolis protests

FILE PHOTO: Customs and Border Protection Predator Drone

PortandTerminal.com, May 30, 2020

CBP drone over Minneapolis – Surveillance Creep or justifiable usage of surveillance technology?

WASHINGTON – The reports that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was using a military-grade, Predator drone over Minneapolis yesterday during the protests have drawn sharp condemnation by civil liberties advocates and others.

Is flying a military-grade surveillance drone over the protests a valid use of surveillance technology as CBP claimed in a statement yesterday or is it an example of “surveillance creep” and the ongoing militarization of civil law enforcement in America?

Protesters gather in front of a liquor store in flames near the police building in Minneapolis. Photo: AFP
Protesters gather in front of a liquor store in flames near the police building in Minneapolis. Photo: AFP

Discovery of the drone over Minneapolis

The drone was spotted yesterday on a flight tracking tool by members of the ADS-B Exchange, a community of flight watchers who use open-source flight data to monitor America’s skies. The discovery was announced by Jason Paladino on Twitter and later confirmed by CBP.

This is certainly not the first instance of military-grade, aerial surveillance technology being deployed to monitor civilian protests.

Unarmed Predator drones were first used within the United States in 2012 when the Department of Homeland Security flew one over the property of a cattle farmer named Rodney Brossart to surveil him, and to help end a 16-hour standoff between him and another rancher over a stolen-cattle dispute. The use was highly controversial at the time.

During the 2015 Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore, the FBI used a manned surveillance plane to fly over the city, said Laperruque. The  American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained FBI records showing that the agency had flown at least 10 surveillance flights over Baltimore that spring.

Screen grab of drone footage of protest
SCREEN GRAB:  Protests in Baltimore, Maryland, 2015 • Protests in Baltimore, Maryland 2015, Aerial Surveillance Footage. SOURCE: FBI

Customs and Border Protection statement

Protesters throw objects into a fire outside a Target store near the Third Police Precinct. Car on fire.
Protesters throw objects into a fire outside a Target store near the Third Police Precinct on May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd. KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

Following reports online and in the media of the Predator drone being used over Minneapolis, CBP confirmed its usage and had this explanation:

“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”

Some see it as a valid use of technology to do exactly what CBP said in its statement. Provide police and authorities with “situational awareness” that helps them to maintain order and keep their people safe.

Imagine that you were a police officer or other first responder being sent to deal with a situation like the one in Minneapolis yesterday. Do you not deserve the best information available to keep yourself safe and to do your job?

If we are going to send men and women into situations like these what is our duty of care to them?

Surveillance Creep & Militarization

Police in military grade gear. Truck. Guns. Armour.

Many others worry that it is yet another example of “surveillance creep” and the continued militarization of civil law enforcement agencies.

For its part, the House Homeland Security Committee said yesterday that the drone “should not have been deployed” and that the “government response to Minneapolis must not be militaristic”. They have committed themselves to get answers.

The president today seemingly disagreed with the House Homeland Security Committee and tweeted the Federal Government’s willingness to step in and use “…the unlimited power of our Military and many arrests” in Minneapolis.

The news yesterday also drew an immediate and predictable negative reaction from civil liberties advocates, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY 14th District) who urged the need to “defund” programs that she says “militarize police, CBP, etc”

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