The Air Force is launching a fleet of drone spy planes across American skies.
These are data-gathering devices. They hold data for 90 days whenever they accidentally collect it over the USA.
Why hold it at all?
Legally, the Air Force is not supposed to snoop on citizens of the USA. But if they take off from American soil, and they just happen to keep the cameras running, it’s “no harm-no foul.”
“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.
What the Air Force intends to do with such data is a mystery to the public. It takes human resources to evaluate data. Why would the Air Force tie up these resources?
The Air Force offers this one: to observe natural disasters. But why should it do this? What is the authorizing mission?
Then there is this: studying environmental changes? Really? Like what? Why?
The Air Force may want to keep tabs on a military base. That makes a little sense. Is the Air Force expecting terrorists to attack a military base? Dumb terrorists, maybe.
If I were a terrorist, I would avoid military bases.
Who will police the erasure of the tapes? How do we know the tapes are erased?
We don’t. We won’t. We can’t.
What if another agency asks for a little data-sharing?
The skills gained by Air Force drone operators will be highly marketable to other government agencies. This is a career path with a high payoff.
Drones are going to be used by many agencies as their prices fall. Their prices will fall. As more are ordered and deployed, the division of labor takes over. Innovation accelerates.
Used drones will get cheaper. Your local sheriff’s department will be able to afford one. It will be the “in” thing for a department to have.