Documents reveal Border Patrol's use of drones

Use of drones concerns groups like ACLU

SAN DIEGO - Predator drones with some unique capabilities are now flying over borders in the San Diego area, according to information obtained by Team 10.

The information about the drone program was released after a Freedom of Information Act request made by the group Electronic Privacy Information Center.

According to the documents, since 2005, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has purchased 10 Predator drones from San Diego-based General Atomics for use on land and sea borders.

According to the contracts, the drones are capable of "identifying a standing human" and "recognizing a backpack."

The U.S. Border Patrol has said the drones can't identify a particular individual; they can only tell if it's a person, but they've been effective.

For example, in one 17-month period, the drones reportedly helped track down nearly 4,000 illegal immigrants and nine tons of marijuana.

The local American Civil Liberties Union chapter says the use of the drones is worrisome.

"All of this has happened without important questions being asked. A lot of our movements may be captured by these drones without us knowing where that information is going," said Sean Riordan, staff attorney for the San Diego chapter of the ACLU.

The documents also show the drone systems include signal interception receivers, which makes privacy advocates wonder if the drones could easily intercept communications, like phone calls.

"Anytime we get new technology that can do that in a novel way, we ought to be concerned about whether it's being used appropriately or not," said Riordan.

The Border Patrol has denied using the drones for any communications surveillance.

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