US Military Testing Surveillance Balloons in Latest Surveillance State Expansion

The US military commissioned a test run of surveillance balloons. This latest intrusion into the privacy of individuals is like metadata collection.

August 5, 2019

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

surveillance privacy balloon

I forget about the contingent of people who genuinely believe that government’s job is to make them feel safe.

It’s not. Providing for the common defense is NOT the same as making people feel safe. In fact, defense doesn’t even guarantee safety. It’s only the effort to get to safety.

Safety is a feeling. How that feeling is achieved varies by individual. Some learn martial arts, others work out, others carry pepper spray, and others still carry a firearm. Clearly there’s no “one” way to go about feeling safe.

Where the issue of safety becomes an issue is when that turns into an entitlement or is regarded as a right. Having a negative right to not be aggressed upon, isn’t the same as the right to feel safe.

This is an important distinction because the government uses this to weasel new policies that violate our actual right to privacy.

Whether you’re looking at the data collection revealed by Edward Snowden, or the NSA sharing its assets with ICE and CBP, or the DEA extending its surveillance capabilities with other agencies, the surveillance state is a real thing.

The privacy of the individual is being eroded by the constant effort to control them in the name of safety. This is interwoven with other laws that are also there for our collective safety.

The US is being convinced that the nonviolent or victimless offenders pose a threat so great, they need dedicated surveillance and task forces to keep them from committing their non-violent acts. I know this based on two relatively recent events:

1. Ross Ulbrict was sentenced to two life sentences plus 40 years for money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics via the internet.

That translates into: hiding where his money came from, breaking and entering, talking to someone about fraudulent identification, and talking to someone about trafficking narcotics.

Two life sentences plus 40 years. For what doesn’t really amount to much of a threat to anyone save maybe the computer hacking.

2. Debra Hamil was tasered for resisting arrest and not signing an $80 fix-it ticket. In as much as people would argue that she brought it on herself for resisting, that really is another way in which to defend “comply or die”.

More importantly, there isn’t a single judge that can order non-lethal electrocution for the most violent crimes in our society as part of their sentencing. They cannot order it because of the 8th amendment.

So while a judge cannot order non-lethal electrocution to a convicted violent offender at their discretion, a cop can employ it at their discretion upon someone for not signing an $80 fix-it ticket.

These two instances are a couple in a long line of imbalanced executions of “justice”. But they are examples for other Americans to take heed: the government sees everyone as a threat that needs to be subdued, and they are going to save us to death if that’s what it takes.

The false entitlement to safety will indeed come at the expense of actual civil liberties. One of the problems is the cart-before-horse approach to catching these nefarious villains.

Time and again, the government infringes without an actual or specific crime attached to it.

The DEA has seized billions in assets the majority of which are not tied to an existing crime or investigation.

The DEA has broad surveillance capabilities, and still no specific criminals or investigations are tied to their budgets.

The IRS uses “John Doe Summonses” to investigate offshore accounts. Those summonses aren’t connected to any specific account or account holder. It’s just a carte blanche to investigate American offshore accounts.

The TSA searches everyone because they are traveling. Because the intent to travel is unto itself a bit suspicious?

Even something as simple as a sobriety check-point is a detention and search with no grounds or probable cause. Simply driving down a certain road at a certain time is not suggestive of a person being under the influence of alcohol.

More of the same is happening as 1984 unfolds further in the US… in the name of national security. The latest in surveillance technology is being tested by a little known government organization called Southcom or US Southern Command. Who are they?

US Southern Command (Southcom), which is responsible for disaster response, intelligence operations and security cooperation in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Southcom is a joint effort by the US army, navy, air force and other forces, and one of its key roles is identifying and intercepting drug shipments headed for the United States.

The defense and aerospace company, Raven Aerostar, introduced a surveillance balloon that can float as high as 65,000 feet into the air, and monitor multiple cars and boats for up to a month. It’s meant to track narcotic trafficking and other threats to national security.

Whereas before, Southcom relied on lightweight planes equipped with surveillance technology to do this, those methods proved to be less efficient. They could only be in the air for a few hours and required far more human resources.

These balloons need far less of both, and they share data with one another. Southcom commissioned a test from Raven Aerostar:

Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois.

Raven Aerostar competitor World View also did a similar test earlier in the year.

Here’s the fun part: while they were tests, no one knows what will become of the information collected during those tests. Which means, we likely won’t know what they do with the information they collect if or when this is officially adopted.

The ACLU so far is the only one calling out this program as disturbing. And rightly so. Much like metadata, it does track the general behavior of people. For example, Metadata would indicate the number you called as being a doctor’s office. This balloon surveillance would indicate that you went to a doctor’s office.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches… shall not be violated…

If the collection of metadata by the NSA was not acceptable, how did this get the funding and approvals to essentially do the same thing? Is collecting this sort of information aimlessly reasonable or not?

One thing is for certain: Monitoring people’s movements in this way is taking the “eyes cannot trespass” to another level.

All this because the US cannot bring itself to legalize drugs and enact a less restrictive immigration policy. The staying goes, “Freedom isn’t free”; but tyranny ain’t any cheaper.

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