By Crime and Justice News | August 5, 2019
Unmanned surveillance balloons are being launched from South Dakota to conduct surveillance over the Midwest, prompting concerns about privacy violations, reports the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader. The Pentagon is testing the high-altitude, solar-powered balloons across six states. The balloons were launched to provide “a persistent surveillance system” for narcotics trafficking and homeland security threats, said a filing with the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC authorized the Sierra Nevada Corp., a Nevada-based national security and aerospace contractor, “experimental special temporary authorization” for the balloons on July 12.
Roughly two dozen small balloons carrying radars that can track vehicles will journey over Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri before ending up in Illinois, the Guardian reports. The balloons were launched about 20 miles north of Sioux Falls and will travel up to a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet above ground in a radius of 250 miles. The U.S. Southern Command commissioned the tests, and the balloons are carrying sensors and communication gear capable of detecting every vehicle in motion in a 25-mile range beneath the balloon. Sioux Falls-based Raven Aerostar supplied the balloons and launched them from its South Dakota facility about a month ago. The company didn’t return the Argus Leader’s request for comment. The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota raised concerns that the balloons’ surveillance could violate South Dakotans’ privacy, and called on the military to be clear about its actions in South Dakota. The technology is capable of recording and storing all public movement over entire cities or metro areas, and that level of mass surveillance destroys any level of anonymity South Dakotans have, said the ACLU’s, Libby Skarin.