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Feds seeking new drones for US border patrol




SIERRA VISTA, AZ - MARCH 07:  Maintenance personel check a Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The agency is seeking new, lighter drones for use along the border by funding Silicon Valley tech companies. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
SIERRA VISTA, AZ - MARCH 07: Maintenance personel check a Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The agency is seeking new, lighter drones for use along the border by funding Silicon Valley tech companies. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
John Moore/Getty Images

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The Department of Homeland Security wants to work with Silicon Valley tech startups to bring more drones to U.S. borders. Though the agency has already been using predator drones for years in the region, it's seeking smaller, lighter units that can be used to monitor potentially illegal activity, said Greg McNeal, professor of law and public policy at Pepperdine University.

"They're reaching out to Silicon Valley to say, 'Give us something highly capable that we can put in the back of a truck and hand launch from that vehicle to give immediate, actionable information to the border patrol agent,'" said McNeal.

Some privacy advocates have raised alarm about increasingly powerful drone technology being directed by government agencies. For example, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, has pointed out that drone surveillance could link facial recognition to extensive databases, such as the FBI's Next Generation Identification database or DHS' IDENT database, two of the world's largest biometric repositories.

A 2012 Office of Inspector General report found that U.S. Customs and Border protection "had not adequately planned resources needed" to support its use of unmanned aircrafts along the border and outlined four recommendations.

McNeal said DHS has worked with civil rights groups to develop a policy that's one of the most thorough of any government agency and that the new products could start rolling out soon.

"We'll see them deploying their products, getting them in testing and then starting to see them getting used by border patrol agents sometime this year," he said.