DHS Domestic Drones Designed To Snoop on Guns, Communications

Predator droneU.S. Air ForceNot that Big Brother robots will ever come swooping across the sky, sniffing out people carrying guns and locating people by their mobile devices, but just in case there was ever a need for such a thing, the Department of Homeland Security is building such capabilities into its domestically deployed drones. For now, drones that can identify people toting rifles, sniff out cell phone conversations and (potentially) launch weapons are primarily deployed at the border, but they're getting quite a workout in the heartland, too, reports CNet's Declan McCullagh.

Writes McCullagh:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has customized its Predator drones, originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks that have civil libertarians worried: identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones, government documents show.

The documents provide more details about the surveillance capabilities of the department's unmanned Predator B drones, which are primarily used to patrol the United States' northern and southern borders but have been pressed into service on behalf of a growing number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, the Secret Service, the Texas Rangers, and local police.

CNet links to unredacted DHS requirements for domestic Predator drones, which provide some interesting details on the device's abilities and their potential uses.

Of interest to Second Amendment fans, of course, is the idea of robots in the sky spotting and marking the location of anybody carrying a rifle or a shotgun (a holstered pistol would seem to be a stretch for the technology — at least, so far). That's not an uncommon activity in much of the country, and the idea of eager Homeland Security goons bouncing across forest and desert in pursuit of some poor SOB out to bag a rabbit or plink a few tin cans is less than assuring to many people.

3.5.3.1.7 Shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not (based on position of arms) at a slant range of one and a half times the specified Operating Altitude.

The requirements also lay out the wish list for the drones' abilities to intercept communications and target the source of signals. The abilities are specified by bandwidth, and a quick cross-check with what devices use which parts of the spectrum reveal that, yes, indeed, pretty much any widget you may care to carry and talk, text or email through is covered.

3.5.5 Signals Interception
3.5.5.1.1 Shall (T) provide 360-degree coverage in azimuth of the spectrum from 30 MHz to 3 GHz unblocked.

3.5.5.1.2 The payload shall provide 2 degree (T) 1 degree (O) root mean square (RMS) direction finding (DF) accuracy from 30 MHz to 150 MHz and provide 1 degree (T) 1/2 degree (O) root mean square (RMS) direction finding (DF) accuracy from 150 MHz to 3000 MHz.

DHS originally acquired the drones for border patrol purposes, but a 2012 report (PDF) from the DHS Office of the Inspector General revealed that Customs and Border Protection has been loaning its toys to agencies including:

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies, including Office of Border Patrol, United States Secret Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE);
  • Bureau of Land Management;
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation;
  • Department of Defense;
  • Texas Rangers;
  • United States Forest Service; and
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Those loans take place with sufficient frequency that the report frets that CBP "does not have agreements with exterior stakeholders for reimbursement of mission costs."

Oh, yeah. I guess those Big Brother robots are swooping across the sky, after all.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • sloopyinca||

    Oh, yeah. I guess those Big Brother robots are swooping across the sky, after all.

    I hope this was sarcasm instead of surprise.

  • Pro Libertate||

    So each gun owner will be tracked continuously by a drone? Huh.

  • John||

    Texas Rangers;

    What does a baseball team need with a drone? Do they plan to bomb the California Angels? Drone strike Steve Trout?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, what do you expect from the Senators? Fair play? Nonviolence?

  • Andrew S.||

    Mike Trout, unless you're talking about the guy who played for the Cubs back in the 80s. And they haven't been the California Angels since the 90s. Exactly what decade are you living in, John?

    (or maybe I'm a bit pissed off at the world today and taking things too seriously. Don't mind me.)

  • Almanian!||

    I'd be pissed I my baseball team were called the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

    Also, John's living in the 70's, cause he's so groooooooooooovy, man. Solid!

  • John||

    Whatever Trout. It really is too bad the SABREMETRIC degenerates decided to fall in love with Trout. Makes me want to hate the kid for no good reason.

  • Almanian!||

    I'm pretty suspicious of anyone named Trout. Or Pike.

    Must be a fish thing.

  • Hyperion||

    Crappie, Bass, Salmon, Marlin, Cod, Mackeral... hmmm, I think you are onto something... All of those fish names sound statist as hell.

    Matter o fact, can anyone name just one person with a fish name that isn't a fucking statist?! I think not!

  • sloopyinca||

    Don't talk shit about C.P.O. Sharkey!

  • fish||

    BASTARD

  • Drake||

    The new Predator baseball scout - coming to a High School game near you.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Nashville should change their mascot to the death-from-the-air variety "Predator."

  • Brett L||

    I don't know, but I'm pretty sure the Astros are no threat to them, so Houston is probably safe.

  • sloopyinca||

    Speaking of baseball, I'm ready to put the final touches on the Reason Hit and Run Baseball Weekend.

    Saturday 4/6 vs The Pirates. Game time 6:10. Gonna have the details finalized very soon. If we can get 20 people, we can get a group rate and maybe our name on the Jumbotron. Please let me know if you are interested and I can tentatively put you down on the list.

    We'll probably stay in West Hollywood or near the Hollywood/Highland Metro Station for easy access to post-game drinking establishments. If anybody has a better idea, please let me know. Once I get a pretty good idea how many of us there are, I'll take it to the people at Reason HQ and see if they want to do something for us as well, like opening the new office for the afternoon so we can drink and commiserate. (You hear that, Reason staffers? Be prepared for my call!)

    e-mail me at kenspicer111@gmail.com if interested.

  • db||

    Why does it have to be against Pittsburgh?

  • sloopyinca||

    Because that's the first weekend series. Hell, I can wait if needed but I really need a baseball fix by mid-April.

  • db||

    I forget--Northern or Southern CA? I may be out in AZ that week on biz.

  • sloopyinca||

    Los Doyers

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    "What does a baseball team need with a drone?"

    Simpsons did it (sort of).

  • Andrew S.||

    Would you like to hear the horrible truth? Or would you like to see me hit some dingers?

  • SugarFree||

    This isn't anything individual cops can't do now, what with their ability to fly. They just jump in the air and loiter away for hours at a time, making little to no noise.

  • ||

    It's not like you have a right to have people not know you are carrying a rifle around out in public.

  • ||

    It's a bird...it's a plane...it's dunphy!

  • Almanian!||

    Don't you have a supermodel to bench press or something, derpfeeenvy?

  • ||

    "Look, yes, I have banged hundreds of broads, internationally, but know this: I wrap my rascal TWO times 'cause I like it to be joyless and without sensation as a way of punishing supermodels."

  • Almanian!||

    My life for YOU!

    Boom de boom!

  • ||

    M-O-O-N

    That spells super-cop!

  • Almanian!||

    We... are... dead... and... this... is... Hell!

    /Nadine

  • ||

    1) i've lost 25-30 lbs of muscle mass and am no longer strong as fuck :(

    2) i don't bench press. Olifters usually don't

    3) I am against civilian police use of drones

  • sloopyinca||

    3) I am against civilian police use of drones

    Serious question: What will you say when case law says they are OK? Will you blame the politicians and shrug your shoulders as they're used against "civilians," or will you actively take a stand?

  • sloopyinca||

    Meant to say "case law and departmental policies".

  • ||

    Assuming my agency adopts drones, which I STRONGLY doubt, I would do the same thing I did when we adopted an overly militaristic SWAT policy (at one point, we changed our policy so that SWAT was used on ALL drug warrants. Granted, we had three officers in the last 6 months at the time who had been SHOT during warrants (thank god for bulletproof vests), so I understand the overreaction)... write an O/R and attend a staff meeting and advocate my position. Fwiw, our agency did change the policy back to only using SWAT on higher risk warrants, not sure how much was due to my advocacy.

    I would suggest most reasonoids might benefit their communities by doing something besides whining on blogs... attend community meetings, review their local dept's policies and procedures and if they see any that are suspect, bring it up in a community meeting (my agency attends them), and if their local agency has a citizen academy, to attend that.

    I also suggest going on ride-alongs to learn what your local agency is doing and how they do it. Quality and policy varies greatly

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I would suggest most reasonoids might benefit their communities by doing something besides whining on blogs...

    How do you know we don't?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • sloopyinca||

    Thanks for the answer, even if you didn't really address my question.

    By the way, what in the hell makes you think that we're not already doing considerably more than the average cop to benefit our communities? After all, we're doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, auctioneers, cooks, computer technicians, software engineers and writers. We do more for our communities than the average overpaid and underworked civil servant that is going to have a negative net impact financially on their fellow citizens as well as a negative net impact on their liberty.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    "Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on: we cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances, we guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us."

  • sloopyinca||

    Notice I didn't include "math teachers"?

  • fish||

    Hell Dunph....you have to expect most of the crap you get here.

    Any opinion on DHS buying 2700 MRAPs?

  • Hyperion||

    Dunphy only bench presses muscular women with no tits or ass, and a rather suspect looking bulge in the crotch of their spandex workout uniform.

  • ||

    clitoromegolomy (sp?). AAS use by female athletes can result in expansion of the clitoris to where it rivals a micro penis

  • ||

    Oh, and oler chix have epic asses.
    &
    Check out Karpinska... epic t&a and real, functional muscle in a 48kilo package.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....2557844C43

    Crossfit women are beautiful too. Athletic, hard, and great asses

  • ||

    New meaning to the phrase "when pigs fly."

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Groanz!

  • Jordan||

    ...and the idea of eager Homeland Security goons bouncing across forest and desert in pursuit of some poor SOB out to bag a rabbit or plink a few tin cans is less than assuring to many people.

    That thought gives liberals a full-on rager.

  • Almanian!||

    YEah - just watched "Platoon" this weekend for the first time in a long time.

    I'm picturing this scenario being like when the VC are chasing Willem Dafoe's character after Tom Berenger'scharacter shoots him. That's my visual here.

    "Look! They've GOT 'im!" /prog

    Assholes.

  • Trespassers W||

    Just a suggestion, but maybe if you're out carrying a rifle, and you spot a drone just hovering there...

  • SugarFree||

    You'll be a cop killer and they will toss "the burners" in your cabin.

  • Almanian!||

    If dogs are treated as ociffers, why done teh dronzez? Makes sense when you think about it dude, lol!

    www.dronebot.de/fuckthegummint

  • Hyperion||

    SF's link.

    Just don't expect Capn Dronebot to pardon you after you kill an innocent drone that was only trying to protect the childins.

  • Brett L||

    Unfortunately, the operating altitude of the Predator is about 18000 feet. Best of luck on that shot.

  • Almanian!||

    Maybe with +P rounds?

    No?

  • Pro Libertate||

    This is why we need anti-drone drones. Could the Kochs fund a fabricator that can build those for common folk?

  • sloopyinca||

    3-D Printers FTW! To the Koch-cave!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Don't be surprised when a NOVA episode soon runs focusing on homemade anti-drone drones, built by fabricators. The designs will be available at www.pbs.org/nova.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Whoa, that automatically linked without the code. What sort of magic is this?

  • Almanian!||

    Magic Mike Magic - the best kind

  • sloopyinca||

    Magic Mike Magic - the best kind

    The kind where you have a bunch of dongs flapping in your face? Pass.

  • Zeb||

    Magic that doesn't work very well. It links to a non-page because of the period in the URL.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ah, good point. I'll still code going forward, but I was captured by the novelty of the moment.

  • sloopyinca||

    Would it be possible to develop a single-use drone capable of that altitude that could emit a signal scrambler or even have a magnetic hull that would attract it to the murderdrone and cause it to malfunction or even blow it up?

    IIRC, these things fly rather slowly, making them pretty easy targets to get close/attach to and blow the fuck up.

  • Brett L||

    Building a drone that can achieve 18000 feet altitude and track something with the radar cross section that small would be pretty damn hard. The better thing to hope is that these things still transmit in unecrypted rf and can be hacked.

  • Pro Libertate||

    What about hundreds of minidrones?

  • db||

    Coat it with adhesive--"stick-E-MP"

  • Almanian!||

    Oh, so now the Kochs will become ACTIVE ENEMIES OF THE STATE US GOVERNMENT PEOPLE! Not even trying to hide it any more!

    They'll DESERVE it when they get shut down and locked up like those utterly innocent US citizens people of Japanese descent who were supporting Hirohito!

    Traitors!

  • Trespassers W||

    No kidding? Now I'm really worried.

  • Andrew S.||

    You libertarians are so paranoid. This is why you never get elected. Our benevolent government would never use these for improper aims. Obama would never allow that to happen!

    Now, if a Republican ever gets elected again, I can promise you that I'll start protesting THEIR use of these immediately, because they can't be trusted.

    Did I do that right? Too over the top?

  • ||

    Not even remotely over the top enough.

  • Almanian!||

    Meh - C work.

    Keep at it Andrew, and you may amount to nothing, too!

  • Hyperion||

    Ha, you speak foolishness. Of course our current benevolent government with Dear Leader in charge would never use force against his own subjects.

    But what happens if the horror comes to pass that the Rethuglicans steal another election and they get control of these drones? Yes, be very afraid, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, with drones!

  • Homple||

    And when the drone identifies you as a possible threat, here's what they'll send to give you a ride to the station for a little talk:

    Obama DHS Purchases 2,700 Light-Armored Tanks

    http://www.thegatewaypundit.co.....stockpile/

    Now let's get back to the real worries: pot, gay marriage, and abortion.

  • Almanian!||

    BONER CALLED TEH SENATURS ASS!!! HE SAID ASS! THAT BAD!

    /low info human being

  • Hyperion||

    Why do you speak of the Orange One? Do you not know it is forbidden?

  • SugarFree||

    For now, drones that can identify people toting rifles, sniff out cell phone conversations and (potentially) launch weapons are primarily deployed at the border

    Bah! joe has assured us that armed drones will never be a reality.

  • sloopyinca||

    Note the conspicuous use of the word "primarily"? Like saying "Customs and Border Patrol are primarily deployed at border areas" to justify the creep that puts them as far as 200 miles inland.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We'd better get back, 'cause it'll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night. . .mostly.

  • SugarFree||

    They've already defined 100 miles away from the border as being jurisdiction for border control. That's, what, something like 70% of the population of the US?

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's pretty much every square inch of Florida.

  • Almanian!||

    geograPWND

  • Pro Libertate||

    Total worship of the state = love of death from the skies

  • Almanian!||

    It's a new "Divine Wind"

  • LTC(ret) John||

    No, no! They are reusable!

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Surveillance drones don't deal out death from the skies, and don't make it any easier to start deploying armed drones. If the fedgov wanted to deploy Hellfire-equipped Predators over Kansas, you can't stop them whether there are already recon drones in the sky or not.

    So I'm sorry, but this must be deemed chicken-littling.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    We've had police cars and police helicopters for decades, and neither have been mounted with the weaponry that military vehicles and copters have. Why would surveillance drones be any different?

    Sorry, but this smacks of Ludditism. It's something new and you don't like the people who are using it, so you think it must be a threat. Yawn.

  • Homple||

    You're right about this, drones are new and allow more sophisticated and intrusive ways of monitoring us.

    I don't dislike the people using them - I just don't trust them. Hence my antipathy to drones.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Is there a device I can obtain or manufacture that will fill all radio frequencies with noise throughout an approximate volume in space?

  • SugarFree||

    Yes, but like cell phone jammers, they are illegal. Or at least the FCC can slap you with a fine.

  • Almanian!||

    Harboring anti-governmental thoughts is bad for you, and therefor illegal.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    You don't see any violent-criminal application for such jammers, do you?

    A lot of you have crossed the line from pro-ltd government to full blown anti-government.

  • Pro Libertate||

    There are violent criminal applications for guns, encryption, and quite a variety of other things, too.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Except those things have important, legitimate uses for peaceful porcupine citizens as well. Not like frequency jammers -- the only purpose is to prevent someone nearby from communicating via radio frequencies. Which in a public space is absolutely a violent act in itself.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Yeah, that line sure is easy to cross lately.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    I didn't ask if they are illegal. I asked how I can get one.

  • sloopyinca||

    Ask Al Qaeda or their relatives, friends or neighbors. Apparently, we're murderdroning them because they're an immediate threat to our safety. I can only assume it's because of their superior technical acumen at deploying space-age weaponry.

  • Hyperion||

    Well, we've already established that they are a threat, else why would we be spending billions on foreign missions to kill them?

    So, that begs the question... if those 7th century barbarians living in mud huts in 3rd world countries are that much of a threat, then how much more of a threat are rednecks, teabaggers, and anti-government libertarian types who cling to the guns and even own dangerous assault weapons?

    I think it is clear.

  • SugarFree||

    I'll sell you one, DRS. I'll be in the truck with "Flowers By Irene" on the side.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Flowers for Algernon seems more appropriate.

  • EndTheBeguine||

    The NOAA? Because the immigrants spend so much time in the ocean and the sky?

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Even NASA apparently has agents with enforcement powers. Surely NOAA can find something to regulate.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Many years ago, one of my best friends was in the IRS. This was right out of college, so we still went out drinking quite a bit. Some of his coworkers would go out with us, and one of them was in the enforcement arm of the IRS and carried a gun. I was completely shocked to learn that there was such a thing. This was back in 1989.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    NOAA has fish police. Fuck game wardens and anything of a similar nature up Tulpa's asshole.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Fish police? Who do they shoot?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Anyone they want.

    Cool TV show, though.

  • G-dub||

    It's a good thing we will now have drone-proof clothing:

    http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/.....ashionista

  • The Late P Brooks||

    the idea of eager Homeland Security goons bouncing across forest and desert in pursuit of some poor SOB out to bag a rabbit or plink a few tin cans is less than assuring to many people.

    A friend was hunting right next to the Canadian border, and this exact thing happened (without droneage); some Border Patrol hotshot comes careening across the field, and starts trying to give the third degree to one of the other guys in the hunting party.

    "WHAT THE FUCK DOES IT LOOK LIKE WE'RE DOING?" was the response.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Hate to interrupt the chicken-littling, but these things are still able to identify less than a cop in a helicopter with binoculars could.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Yes, but was today still like one of those fly dreams, when I didn't even see a berry flashin' those high beams? No drone looking for a murder, and in two in the mornin I got the Fatburger; I even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp, and it read, "Heroic Mulatto's a pimp"?

  • Homple||

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Tulpa, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Years of technological progress lie ahead of us.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    It's funny. The world has seen plenty of totalitarian and oppressive govts, and none of them needed drones. If the US were really becoming the police state that some think it is, why would they bother with drones? Secret police are far easier, faster, and cheaper to deploy.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Because there's no such thing as an autonomous drone Oathkeeper?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Not that it has anything to do with anything, but here's a picture of a pre-famous Marilyn Monroe building a WWII-era drone.

  • Homple||

    Was the Reginald Denny in the Wikipedia article about drones related to the Reginald Denny who was beaten up in the Rodney King riots?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement