Homeland Security reviews U.S. Border Protection's UAS use

By Emily Aasand | October 02, 2014

On behalf of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Department of Homeland Security completed a review on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program to ensure its compliance with privacy and civil liberty laws and standards.

The review, which was completed and submitted on June 12, contains information on CBP’s collecting, retaining, storing and disseminating images procedures to make sure they comply with aforementioned laws and standards. Although the review didn’t address the level of to which the CBP has created written policies for UAS operations, the report did find the process of institutionalizing policies to protect privacy and civil liberties.

The House Committee Report 113-91 mandated the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Privacy Offices to conduct a review of the CBP’s efforts to ensure the CBP’s UAS use both complies with existing law and applicable privacy and civil liberty standards and is limited to operation along the border and coastal areas.

The GAO analyzed the review on CBP polices and UAS flight data from fiscal year 2011 through April 2014—covering the time period when all UAS centers became operational.

According to the DHS, the review found that CBP’s use of UAS is not limited to border and coastal areas of the United States, the location of UAS operations is, however, limited by Federal Aviation Administration requirements and CBP’s policies and procedures.

CBP reported that UAS operations are limited geographically via certificates of authorization (COA) but work with the FAA to create a new COA or by requesting an addendum to an existing COA to operate in airspace outside the existing COA.

The GAO analysis of CBP UAS flight hour data found that “over 80 percent of the UAS flight hours were associated with border and coastal areas of the U.S.”

The GAO makes no recommendations in this report.