Americans are still coming to terms with all the ways they’re being watched by phones and smart home devices with a front seat to their daily lives.
But there’s an incoming threat to privacy that looms high above: Camera-outfitted mass-surveillance balloons that can capture every moving vehicle across a wide area, from the stratosphere.
Such experimental devices are already being tested above six Midwest states as part of a Pentagon program, the Guardian reported yesterday, citing information found in Federal Communications Commission documents.
The project involves as many as 25 of the solar-powered balloons being launched from rural South Dakota, from where they eventually drift 250 miles (402 km) to central Illinois, in the meanwhile roaming above parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri. The balloons can reach altitudes of 65,000 ft (19,812 m).
The FCC authorized the Sierra Nevada Corporation, an aerospace and defense company, to test the balloons from mid-July through Sept. 1. The technology is meant to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats,” according to the filing.
But experts caution that all kinds of data is likely being collected. Jay Stanley, an analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told the Guardian that 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.” Read more