EPIC v. Army - Surveillance Blimps
- "Eyes Over DC" - Department of Defense Launches Surveillance Blimps: On Friday, December 19, 2014, the US army will deploy surveillance blimps just north of the nation's capital. The surveillance blimp system, known as "JLENS," is comprised of two 250' blimps. One blimp contains aerial and ground surveillance technology that covers a 340-mile range, while the other has targeting capability. The JLENS was originally deployed in Iraq. Earlier this year, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to gain more information about the JLENS system. Preliminary documents obtained by EPIC suggested that the blimps would be equipped with video surveillance, though the Army has since claimed that video surveillance will not be deployed. However, documents obtained by EPIC in another FOIA case indicate that Customs and Border Protection is operating surveillance blimps with video surveillance. And the contractor Raytheon has demoed a video surveillance upgrade for the JLENS system. For more information see: EPIC v. Dept. of Army - Surveillance Blimps, EPIC: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and EPIC Spotlight on Surveillance (2005) - "Unmanned Planes Offer New Opportunities for Clandestine Government Tracking." (Dec. 17, 2014)
- EPIC Sues Army for Information About DC Surveillance Blimps: EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of the Army for documents about JLENS, a sophisticated surveillance system that will be deployed over Washington, DC during the next three years. JLENS is comprised of two 250' blimps. One blimp conducts aerial and ground surveillance over a 340-mile range, while the other has targeting capability including HELLFIRE missiles. The JLENS was originally deployed in Iraq. In the FOIA request, EPIC asked the Army for technical specifications as well as any policies limiting domestic surveillance. EPIC has urged Congress to establish privacy safeguards for aerial drones. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. Army - Surveillance Blimps, EPIC: Drones - Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and EPIC Spotlight on Surveillance (2005) - "Unmanned Planes Offer New Opportunities for Clandestine Government Tracking." (May. 7, 2014)
On November 1, 2013, EPIC filed a FOIA request with the Department of the Army for records related to a blimp-mounted surveillance system called "JLENS" (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor Systems). The JLENS system, manufactured by the defense contractor Raytheon, consists of a two-part system. The first part supports persistent, 360-degree radar-based surveillance over hundreds of miles. The other part is capable of firing missiles at targets being tracked by the radar surveillance system. Raytheon describes JLENS as "two tethered, 74-meter helium-filled aerostats connected to mobile mooring stations and a communications and processing group. The aerostats fly as high as 10,000 feet above sea level and can remain aloft and operational for up to 30 days. One aerostat carries a surveillance radar with 360-degree surveillance capability; the other aerostat carries a fire control radar.”
Additionally, Raytheon has successfully tested JLENS' ability to support additional surveillance equipment in the form of a live video feed. JLENS operators can observe surface moving targets in real time using a Raytheon Company MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System - a “long-range surveillance, target acquisition, tracking, range-finding and laser designation for the HELLFIRE missile and all tri-service and NATO laser-guided munitions."
The Army plans to test the surveillance capabilities of the JLENS system by surveilling the Washington, D.C. area for three years. The Army's test is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2014.
EPIC has a long history of using the FOIA and other administrative procedure laws to assess aerial surveillance by the federal government. In 2005, EPIC first publicized the impact of aerial drones (or UAVs) on citizen privacy, specifically in the area of border surveillance. EPIC explained, "the use of UAVs gives the federal government a new capability to monitor citizens clandestinely, while the effectiveness of the expensive, crash-prone surveillance planes in border patrol operations has not been proved."
On February 24, 2012, EPIC, joined by over 100 organizations, experts, and members of the public, submitted a petition to the FAA requesting a notice and comment rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act on the privacy impact of drones. The petition pointed out that the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (signed on February 14, 2012) provides an opportunity for the Agency to address the privacy questions raised by drone usage.
Additionally, EPIC has worked to establish privacy safeguards from satellite locational tracking (specifically, GPS tracking). In 2013, EPIC testified before the Texas State Assembly on a privacy bill for telephone location data. EPIC's testimony discussed GPS tracking and the need for clear rules governing location surveillance that satisfy Fourth Amendment standards, as well as the importance of public reporting and accountability.
The introduction of JLENS-equipped surveillance blimps into the Washington, D.C. airspace may pose a significant threat to privacy. EPIC's goal in the FOIA request and subsequent FOIA lawsuit is to determine what surveillance data the Army plans to collect during its 3-year JLENS test, as well as how the Army plans to process, store, redact, or delete that data.
On November 1, 2013, EPIC submitted a FOIA request asking for:
- 1) All technical specifications, contracts, and statements of work for JLENS systems purchased for or contracted for by the Department of the Army, including but not limited to contracts with Raytheon;
- 2) All instructions, policies, and procedures concerning the use of JLENS to collect, store, transmit, reproduce, retain, degrade, or delete images and sounds;
- 3) All documents detailing the technical specifications of visual and auditory surveillance hardware on JLENS aerostats; and
- 4) All contracts and statements of work entered into by the Department of the Army for JLENS hardware, software, or training that concerns the ability of JLENS to collect, obscure, degrade, store, transmit, reproduce, retain, or delete images and sounds.
- Army Documents Release (Part 1) (Oct. 9, 2014)
- Army Documents Release (Part 2) (Oct. 9, 2014)
- Army Documents Release (Part 3) (Oct. 9, 2014)
- EPIC's FOIA Request to the Army (Nov. 1, 2013)
- Army's Acknowledgment Letter (Nov. 5, 2013)
- EPIC's FOIA Appeal to the Army (Feb. 5, 2014)
- Army's Second Letter (Feb. 18, 2014)
- Army's Third Letter (Feb. 19, 2014)
- First Interim Release (Aug. 19, 2014)
- Second Interim Release (Sep. 19, 2014)
- Complaint (May. 6, 2014)
- Craig Timberg, Blimplike surveillance craft set to deploy over Maryland heighten privacy concerns, The Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2014.
- Matthew Hay Brown, Officials present radar blimp plans for Aberdeen Proving Ground, The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 16, 2014.
- NBC Washington, Massive Blimps Could Soon Conduct 360-Degree Surveillance Over D.C. Area, Jul. 25, 2013.
- Darren Orf, JLENS the Military Surveillance Airship Is Ready for Action, Jul. 24, 2013.
- Susan Berfield, Raytheon Missile-Seeking Blimp to Get test Run Guarding Capital, Bloomberg, Feb. 28, 2013.