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U.S. Customs and Border Protection drones pass privacy test

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Monday, Oct. 6, 2014

By Stephen Hicks


ANALISE ORTIZ/CRONKITE NEWS: U.S. Customs and Border Protection is using drones to try and stop illegal immigration along the border, but are these drones invading your privacy? Stephen Hicks is in our Washington, D.C., bureau with the answer.

STEPHEN HICKS/CRONKITE NEWS: This week, Congress received an audit of Customs and Border Protection’s use of drones that showed that they do have policies in place to comply with existing privacy laws. U.S. Customs and Border Protection passed the privacy test.

REBECCA GAMBLER/GAO DIRECTOR, HOMELAND SECURITY AND JUSTICE: We did not specifically give CBP a grade in our report but…

STEPHEN HICKS/CRONKITE NEWS: But the GAO (Government Accountability Office) did find that Border Protection, in its use of drones, has an oversight framework with policies for following civil liberties laws – policies like yearly privacy awareness training for all employees, as well as limiting the access of captured images to those with a need to know.

The original report, done by the Department of Homeland Security, failed to answer one important question.

REBECCA GAMBLER/GAO DIRECTOR, HOMELAND SECURITY AND JUSTICE: They did not specifically discuss the extent to which CBP’s UAS (unmanned aerial systems) were operating within border and coastal areas. And so to provide that information we did our own analysis.

STEPHEN HICKS/CRONKITE NEWS: They found over 10,000 drone flight-hours along the Southwest border from fiscal year 2011 to April 2014, or 57 percent of the total drone usage across the country. Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor, who is on the House committee that mandated the report, didn’t have a chance to read the report but did speak to its importance.

REP. ED PASTOR/D-PHOENIX: A drone can be effective in law enforcement, but it also has to ensure that the privacy rights of individuals who are not connected to that investigation are protected.

STEPHEN HICKS/CRONKITE NEWS: Customs and Border Protection has not issued a comment on the report, but according to its website, among its other uses, the drones are used by border patrol to detect the entry of goods and persons on the border. In Washington, D.C., Stephen Hicks, Cronkite News.