On Friday, The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota raised some privacy concerns about Pentagon’s decision to launch solar-powered balloons across six different states.
According to the filing with the Federal Communications Commission, these balloons are intended to be a persistent surveillance system in order for the Pentagon to track narcotics and Homeland Security threats. On July 12th, the Commission authorized these balloons to be launched at high altitudes.
This is considered an experimental special temporary authorization.
Over 25 square miles beneath the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri, about two dozen balloons will be carrying radars that can track vehicles.
The experimentation will approximately end on September 1st, and they will be in the sky from July 12th. They travel at a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet above the ground and can go up to 250 miles from their original launch site. It is unknown if this is just a test or if it is actually a real-time investigation.
Additionally, it is unknown what information will be recorded exactly, what will happen to the information that is gathered during this event, and who will have control of the information after this event. Information such as what vehicles are driving to where and at what time.
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is concerned that these surveillance balloons will violate the privacy of people in South Dakota. They called on the military to be transparent about what their actions will be in South Dakota.
Their concern is related to the fact that this technology is capable of storing information about public movements over entire cities. This is a kind of mass surveillance.
Libby Skarin, the policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota has questions, Skarin asked:
“There are so many unanswered questions here. What kind of information is being collected? What information is being stored? Who has access to this information? Is the surveillance for law enforcement purposes? At a minimum, there should be consultation and approval from local communities before the federal government subjects South Dakotans to area-wide surveillance.”
“Technology like this runs the risk of turning South Dakota into a surveillance stat and is violating the privacy of every South Dakotan. We’re not talking about closed-circuit TV cameras or cameras in discrete places,” Skarin said. “This is area-wide surveillance that essentially creates a pervasive checkpoint over entire cities and metro area.”
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Trending Politics noted:
This technology was originally developed for battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to find improvised explosive devices. One has to wonder what use it has legitimately for civilians. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of privacy in the past multiple times when the latest technologies have been used in violation of privacy for Americans. The most recent case was in 2018 wherein the court ruled it violated the 4th amendment to access historical records in a cell phone without a search warrant. The court at that time said that there is a difference between being observed by law enforcement and being observed by technology.