Focusing public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues

Domestic Drones Petition

David V. Aguilar
Deputy Commissioner
U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20229

Dear Mr. Aguilar:

The undersigned organizations and individuals hereby petition the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) to establish privacy regulations for the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS” or “drones”) in the United States. This petition is pursuant to Section 553(e) of the Administrative Procedure Act. Pending the completion of the rulemaking, the CBP drone program should be suspended.

The use of drones for border surveillance presents substantial privacy and civil liberties concerns for millions of Americans across the country. According to the Agency, the border area encompasses all areas within 100 miles of an external boundary, including both land and sea borders. Approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population resides within this area, including all residents of New York City, Chicago, Miami, and San Diego.

The risks to the public are further exacerbated by the Agency’s practice of allowing federal, state, and local law entities to utilize the CBP drones for operations unrelated to CBP’s mission. A 2012 Report of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Inspector General demonstrated that CBP had flown drones for the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and various local law enforcement agencies, among others. As a result of this practice, anyone in the United States could be subject to surveillance by a CBP-owned drone.

Recent documents obtained by EPIC from CBP under the Freedom of Information Act establish that the CBP Predator B drones carry payload technology to intercept communications and to identify human targets on the ground. Both activities raise substantial questions about compliance with federal privacy laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and the Privacy Act of 1974. DHS has expressed interest in other technologies that would increase drone surveillance capacities, including automated license plate readers and terahertz scanners.

The American public is substantially affected by the uses of drones in U.S. airspace and the Agency has failed to provide legal authority or to seek public comments on a program that allows for the interception of private communications and the surveillance and tracking of individuals in the United States.

The Agency may not operate outside the law. CBP must begin a public rulemaking to assess compliance with federal privacy laws and to establish privacy safeguards for the lawful deployment of drones in the United States.

If you have additional questions regarding the claims set forth in this petition, please contact the Electronic Privacy Information Center, 1718 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20009, (202)-483-1140.


Current Organizational Signatories (19 March 2013, 10:00 AM EST)

  • Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
  • Alameda County Against Drones
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • American Policy Center
  • Arab American Institute
  • Bill of Rights Defense Committee
  • Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School
  • Center for Democracy and Technology
  • Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
  • Constitutional Alliance
  • Constitution Project
  • Cyber Privacy Project
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation - Austin
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Government Accountability Project
  • Liberty Coalition
  • Nachtpult
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • Patient Privacy Rights
  • Privacy Activism
  • Privacy Journal
  • Secure Arkansas
  • Stop Real ID Coalition
  • Take Back Washington

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