Government Treats Protesting Cities as Enemies of the State
On June 2, thousands of protestors took to the streets in major cities across the U.S. to call for an end to police brutality. In response, cities such as Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, and Las Vegas, Nevada, sent police out for crowd control. And, after an armed protestor was shot in Las Vegas, the police were joined by the National Guard.
A review of unfiltered flight data examined by Motherboard on ADS-B Exchange showed police in Washington, D.C., employed several RC-26Bs carrying infrared and electro-optical cameras used in counter-narcotic and military combat missions. A letter from Congress to the House Armed Services Committee about these craft reads: “The aircraft is uniquely qualified as the only fixed-winged aircraft to have Title 32 authority to conduct domestic surveillance while maintaining the ability to conduct Title 10 missions abroad.”
Security researcher John Scott-Railton discovered the same craft over Las Vegas as well as aircraft flown by the Texas Department of Public Safety over Houston and California Highway Patrol aircraft being flown over Oakland. In addition, Chris Stelmarski of the political strategy and media consultant firm MVAR Media tweeted several photos of other aircraft over D.C.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection flew unarmed Predator drones over Minneapolis, the FBI had Cessna 560s over D.C., Portland Police Bureau used its own Cessna 172N, New York Police Department deployed helicopters, and other local departments had their craft airborne over protestors in their cities.
Civil rights activists are concerned about invasion of privacy issues these aircraft present. Many of them are outfitted with “Dirtbox” technology, which are devices that mimic cellphone towers to collect phone numbers, conversations, e-mails, texts, and even GPS locations.
Activists say this is a large amount of information gathered from citizens who are not involved in illegal activity. “It’s concerning because we see an unprecedented amount of aerial surveillance of U.S. citizens in multiple cities at once in a clear attempt to chill speech and silence Americans exercising their First Amendment rights,” Electronic Frontier Foundation senior technologist Cooper Quinn stated, adding, “We have no way of telling what kind of signals intelligence or other surveillance those planes are carrying but that kind of wartime surveillance on our own citizens should enrage everyone who values freedom.”