NPR Story
12:17 pm
Mon March 4, 2013

Drones Reboot For Homeland; Intercepting Calls, Tracking Smartphones

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is rebooting Predator B drones used abroad to better fulfill domestic needs — in places like the border — according to records obtained by Electronic Privacy Information Center and CNET.

The San Diego-based company, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which was awarded a $443 million multi-year deal with the CBP, customized the Predator B drones.

Some of the modifications include intercepting phone calls and using GPS in smartphones to locate individuals, CNET explains:

They "shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not," meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify "signals interception" technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and "direction finding" technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.

But as we've reported, the effectiveness of drones across the border have yet to be realized.

The border drones flew more than 5,700 hours in fiscal year 2012, according to CBP, for a total operating cost of at least $18 million.

What did we get for that cost?

Less than 3 percent of all drugs seized by border agents, and less than 0.04 percent of the 365,000 would-be illegal border crossers caught by agents.

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