Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Border Spies in the Skies

The Customs and Border Protection agency owns and operates 10 drones which it is allowed to use within 100 miles of a border. Gizmodo has managed to get one year's worth of flight data from seven of those drones. You can view an interactive map of those flights from June 2019-June 2020.

In Where Customs and Border Protection Drones Are Flying in the U.S. and Beyond Gizmodo takes a detailed look at where the drones are being used. Gizmodo takes a particular interest in how the drones are being used by other agencies. The drones are frequently loaned out by the CBP to other law enforcement agencies who have used them to police protests, track vehicles and search for suspects.

What is equally interesting is which borders the drones are being used to patrol. The map reveals that the drones are most active on the Texas/Mexico border and on the border with Canada in North Dakota and Minnesota. One drone has also made numerous flights to and over Panama. Gizmodo suggests that these flights were probably used to survey cocaine smuggling routes from South America to the USA.

In 2017 Buzzfeed released an award winning investigation into the use of spy planes by the FBI and the DHS over mainland America. Buzzfeed's Spies in the Skies investigation mapped out the flight paths of the FBI and the DHS planes to reveal the areas where federal planes have been used most used.

A year later the Texas Observer carried out a similar investigation into the aerial surveillance carried out by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). The Texas Department of Public Safety owns two high altitude spy planes. In Eyes Above Texas the Texas Observer used the tracking data from the two planes (obtained from Flightradar24) to create a map of where the planes had flown over Texas.

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