(NaturalNews) A new report says drones used by the U.S. Border Patrol and other border-related agencies are a waste of money because they serve no useful purpose - other than to boost the bottom line of defense contractors.
The report, by the Center for International Policy, finds that not only are drones less than useful, they are a sop to the "military-industrial complex" at a cost of constitutional protections, namely privacy.
From the report:
Drones are proliferating at home and abroad. A new high-tech realm is emerging, where remotely controlled and autonomous unmanned systems do our bidding. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) - commonly known as drones - are already working for us in many ways.
This new CIP International Policy Report reveals how the military-industrial complex and the emergence of the homeland security apparatus have put border drones at the forefront of the intensifying public debate about the proper role of drones domestically.
More drones in the works?
Called, Drones Over the Homeland, the report notes that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency - which falls under the gargantuan Department of Homeland Security - is set to gain even more drones under a $443.1 million contract the agency issued in 2012.
Right now CBP operates seven Predators and three Guardians; the fleet is set to expand by another 14 drones over the next three years, The Huffington Post reported.
The report comes as Congress debates the future of drone usage and expansion in the United States, especially for the border agency, as part of broader immigration reform legislation.
In addition to calling for an end to what the CIP deems a wasteful giveaway to defense contractors, the report notes that drone proliferation is a substantial threat to civil liberties, namely privacy. Tom Barry, the report's lead author, said researchers found "an inefficient, costly and absurd approach to border security and homeland security through the purchasing of Predator drones that were designed for military activity."
Though CBP has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to acquire drones for domestic use, by the agency's own calculations the surveillance platforms have only played a supporting role in just 0.003 percent of drug busts and 0.001 percent of border crossings by illegal aliens.
Given that pathetically low percentage, said Barry, Customs and Border Protection officials have now shifted to a new drone fleet justification: law enforcement and national security. CBP is now pledging to work with the Defense Department and local law enforcement agencies - which should actually be a cause for concern, says Barry.
"I think we should be afraid, in terms of this breaking down of the distinction between domestic law enforcement and national security and foreign affairs," Barry said, as quoted by HuffPo. "That line has been crisscrossed many times with DHS."
Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment, the website reported.
FAA needs to consider potential private and government abuse
In a separate development, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for more privacy in the digital age, submitted testimony to the Federal Aviation Administration, calling on the federal agency to ensure stricter privacy requirements for domestic drone use - those operated both privately and by government. The FAA has said it will select a half-dozen sites around the country to test domestic drones by the end of the year; the EFF says it wants to be crystal clear about the surveillance capabilities possessed by drones.
A staff attorney and frequent spokeswoman at EFF, Jennifer Lynch, says the federal aviation agency ought to impose privacy protections on both private and government operators of unmanned aerial vehicles.
"When it comes to drones, the FAA needs to examine privacy issues with the same rigor it applies to flight and mechanical safety," she said in a statement. "Just as vague safety regulations for drones could result in damage to life or property, vague privacy measures could harm civil liberties."
Earlier reports have said that, once the FAA settles on rules for domestic drone use, their numbers will grow by the tens of thousands.