The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in the US demanding it reveals information about the use of its Predator drones.
The EFF is seeking to find out how and why the US department loans out the drones to other law enforcement agencies in the country.
The EFF said the US currently uses the drones for border surveillance, but reports have indicated Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have begun loaning out the drones to other law enforcement agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Texas Rangers.
The US is a significant user of military drones – unmanned aerial vehicles. Its arsenal of drones has increased from less than 50 a decade ago to around 7000, according to a report by the New York Times, with Congress sinking nearly $5 billion into drones in the 2012 budget.
The US commonly uses drones called the Predator and Reaper, which are remotely piloted drones that are capable of carrying out air strikes. Recently the New York Times reported the US had carried out a drone strike on regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, allegedly killing a Pakistani Taliban commander.
An opinion piece in the New York Times also stated drone strikes in Yemen are adding to the growing hatred towards the US and spurring people on to join radical militants.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott has also stated that if the Coalition were in power it would purchase drones to upgrade Australia's surveillance capability to protect Australia's borders.
“Global Hawke unmanned aerial vehicles, which in a day can undertake detailed surveillance of 40,000 square nautical miles, could help to protect the oil and gas projects on the North West Shelf as well as allow much earlier detection of illegal boat arrivals,” he said.
The EFF has lodged two Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests seeking answers to its questions about the use of drones in the US and for records and logs of the drones’ flights.
“Drones are a powerful surveillance tool that can be used to gather extensive data about you and your activities. The public needs to know more about how and why these Predator drones are being used to watch US citizens,” Jennifer Lynch, EFF staff attorney, said in a statement.
The other FOI request has been lodged with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), also requesting information on drone flights which had been authorised for flight in the US.
“If officials could release their records in a timely fashion – or publish it as a matter of routine on the FAA website – we could stop filing these FOIA requests and lawsuits,” Lynch said.
Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU