Oops! Air Force Drones Can Now (Accidentally) Spy on You
As long as the Air Force pinky-swears it didn’t mean to, its drone fleet can keep tabs on the movements of Americans, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen. And it can hold data on them for 90 days — studying it to see if the people it accidentally spied upon are actually legitimate targets of domestic surveillance.
The Air Force, like the rest of the military and the CIA, isn’t supposed to conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans domestically, according to an Apr. 23 instruction from the flying service. But should the drones taking off over American soil accidentally keep their cameras rolling and their sensors engaged, well … that’s a different story.
“Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent,” reads the instruction (.pdf), unearthed by the secrecy scholar Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. That kind of “incidental” spying won’t be immediately purged, however. The Air Force has “a period not to exceed 90 days” to get rid of it — while it determines “whether that information may be collected under the provisions” of a Pentagon directive that authorizes limited domestic spying.
In other words, if an Air Force drone accidentally spies on an American citizen, the Air Force will have three months to figure out if it was legally allowed to put that person under surveillance in the first place.