The Pentagon Is Testing Mass Surveillance Balloons over the U.S.

Civil liberties groups say the new surveillance tests are lacking in transparency.
Chris Young

The U.S. military is launching wide-area surveillance tests in six Midwest states. These tests will be launched, literally, in the form of experimental high-altitude balloons.

The surveillance experiments, which some are criticizing for their lack of transparency, were announced via documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 


Mass balloon surveillance

As the Guardian reports, approximately 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are set to be launched in rural South Dakota. They will drift 250 miles through an area including Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri, before ending up in central Illinois.

The balloons will travel at stratospheric altitudes of up to 65,000ft. They will carry hi-tech radars designed to track many individual vehicles at day or night time, all at the same time and through any kind of weather.

The documents, filed on behalf of aerospace and defense company Sierra Nevada Corporation, state that the purpose of the test balloons is “to provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotics trafficking and homeland security threats.”

The tests received an FCC license to operate from mid-July until September.

Surveillance capitalism fears

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Guardian:

“We do not think that American cities should be subject to wide-area surveillance in which every vehicle could be tracked wherever they go.”

“Even in tests, they’re still collecting a lot of data on Americans: who’s driving to the union house, the church, the mosque, the Alzheimer’s clinic."

“[We would like to know] what they are they doing with that data, how they are storing it, and whether they are contemplating deploying this in the US.”

The tests come amidst rising fears over the way our data is being used to manipulate us, whether by private companies or governments.

The term 'surveillance capitalism' refers to the way our private data is now a trillion-dollar industry, meaning it is often sold without our knowledge.

The new FCC filings highlight a new way in which vast amounts of personal data might be collected without people's knowledge or consent.

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