Predator Drone Surveillance in Minneapolis Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
1,100 law enforcement departments across the country now use drones
It was the digital trail that gave away the Predator above Minneapolis.
At around 12 p.m. on May 29, journalist Jason Paladino noticed an unusual aircraft on an unusual flight pattern above Minneapolis. Paladino, an investigative reporter at the Project on Government Oversight, used open-source flight data to identify the machine as an unarmed Predator B drone, circling the sky above ongoing protests following the police murder of George Floyd.
The Predator spent just 88 minutes over Minneapolis. Afterwards, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement saying the drone was there to provide situation awareness via live video feed to federal law enforcement. By 1:15 p.m. it had already departed from the city, en route to a more routine border patrol.
For observers, the Predator drone was taken as a grim portent: Were the tools of the forever war finally returning home to watch American civilians with suspicion, as they had once scanned Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of counterinsurgency?
In truth, the unarmed Predator drone is part of a largely hidden system of aerial law enforcement with roots in the war on drugs that started in the 1970s. Thanks to modern transponder requirements, it is now possible for the public to track some of these surveillance efforts. But there is a real danger that many of the drones currently used by police will be exempt from this type of tracking in the future.
Were the tools of the forever war finally returning home to watch American civilians with suspicion?
Part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recent modernization efforts require that all aircraft above a certain size carry a transponder, constantly broadcasting its location. This data is useful for keeping routes uncluttered, reconstructing what happened in a crash, and generally managing the flow of humans in the sky.
It is also an invaluable tool for those seeking to track surveillance flights.