Maybe Stace Nelson is right: we are all being watched by a great power from up above.
Unfortunately, that great power is Big Brother, in the form of balloons built by Raven Aerostar and launched by the United States military to surveil United States citizens in South Dakota and five other downwind states through this month:
Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois.
Travelling in the stratosphere at altitudes of up to 65,000ft, the balloons are intended to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats”, according to a filing made on behalf of the Sierra Nevada Corporation, an aerospace and defence company.
The balloons are carrying hi-tech radars designed to simultaneously track many individual vehicles day or night, through any kind of weather. The tests, which have not previously been reported, received an FCC license to operate from mid-July until September, following similar flights licensed last year.
…The tests have been commissioned by the US Southern Command (Southcom), which is responsible for disaster response, intelligence operations and security cooperation in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Southcom is a joint effort by the US army, navy, air force and other forces, and one of its key roles is identifying and intercepting drug shipments headed for the United States [Mark Harris, “Pentagon Testing Mass Surveillance Balloons Across the US,” UK Guardian, 2019.08.02].
Thank goodness we have the foreign press to alert us to the erosion of our privacy and liberty.
Now I would think that the deployment of military assets against American citizens on American soil would violate the Posse Comitatus Act. Alas, lawyer, former Lieutenant Governor, and Navy veteran Matt Michels informs me that a 1981 amendment to that act allows the military to support law enforcement efforts against illegal drugs. The Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act has succeeded in counterproductively militarizing American police, but the military has shown no sign of being able to win the war on drugs on our soil or abroad.
There are many reasons to be bothered by spy cameras in the sky, among them the fact that, as noted in the FCC’s approval of this invasion of our privacy, the balloons could fly in the way of the Very Long Baseline Array radio telescope in North Liberty, Iowa, which helps us plumb the mysteries of the cosmos. So, not only will the spy balloons infringe on our rights, but they could also get in the way of science. Typical Trumpism!
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota says these military spy balloons violate everyone’s privacy:
“Technology like this runs the risk of turning South Dakota into a surveillance state and violating the privacy of every South Dakotan,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota. “We’re not talking about closed-circuit TV cameras or camera in discrete places. This is area-wide surveillance that essentially creates a pervasive checkpoint over entire cities and metro area. The military needs to be very clear about what information they’re collecting and what they’re doing with the information.”
Because this technology is capable of recording and storing all public movement over large areas – entire cities or metro areas – this kind of mass surveillance destroys any level of anonymity South Dakotans have.
“There are so many unanswered questions here,” Skarin said. “What information is being collected? What information is being stored? Who has access to this information? Is the surveillance for law enforcement purposes? At a minimum, there should be consultation and approval from local communities before the federal government subjects South Dakotans to area-wide surveillance” [ACLU-SD, press release, 2019.08.02].
Mass spying by military balloons may be legal, but it’s not cool. The military’s eyes should be pointed outward at the Russians and North Koreans and other offshore bad guys who threaten our national security, not at me and you heading to Hy-Vee for another case of Shasta or your Uncle Bob heading for a Dakota Rural Action meeting. Decades of the futile war on drugs shows there’s no benefit to deploying military forces on American soil or in our skies that offsets the erosion of our liberty.