The Daily Beast reports that, with cuts to the over-inflated defense budget imminent, firms that develop military technologies are looking to alternative markets. Because the products they develop are sensitive, they’ll likely be prohibited from making sales overseas. So they’re turning to domestic markets, looking to sell surveillance products like unmanned aerial “drone” vehicles — and presumably other goods, including some weapons — to everyone from local and state cops to the Department of Homeland Security:
Gulu Gambhir, the chief technology officer for the [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)] group of [Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)], said he has seen this day coming. […]
“A number of our influential products have dual-use capability to locations and missions adjacent to our primary overseas ISR mission. One such example is local law enforcement, emergency first responders and border protection.”
“All kinds of capabilities that were developed with an eye to foreign countries are being turned inward upon the American people,” said ACLU senior fellow Jay Stanley.
Indeed, local law enforcement agencies — and even national ones — have, at times, been less-than-responsible with their surveillance, particularly of American Muslims, raising the potential for further abuse with a greater technological reach.
At Wired’s Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman’s investigative reporting has revealed a deep-seeded anti-Muslim bias among training materials used by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. That bias has also sometimes manifested itself in local law enforcement. A recent groundbreaking investigation by the AP revealed that the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance was highly focused on Muslim Americans in the city, including one local cleric who was a counter-terror partner to local and national law enforcement.
Technologies are likely to aid these type of biased surveillance. Stanley, who authored a forthcoming report on the use of drones in American cities, told the Daily Beast that police need to exercise restraint “because the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to use a thermal imaging technology to peer into someone’s home without a warrant.” But this didn’t stop the NYPD in 2004 from using infrared technology from recording a “couple on the terrace of a Second Avenue penthouse” as they had an “intimate moment.” The only reason the case came to light was because it surfaced in separate court proceedings.
Likewise, technologies developed for the military have come into much closer contact with Americans on U.S. soil. In 2004, during the Republican National Convention in New York, authorities deployed Long Range Acoustic Devices — or sound cannons — against demonstrators, but never fired them. That changed during the 2009 demonstrations against the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, when sound cannons were fired on protesters.
And these are just a few of the ways that military technologies can, as the ACLU’s Stanley put it, be “turned inward upon the American people.” It seems like a good space for some oversight: Lawmakers should be cautious about the implications of transferring war-making technologies over to domestic forces for use against Americans. Keeping the profit margins high for these organs of the military industrial complex — at a time when everyone is suffering from belt-tightening — is no excuse to risk encroaching on the rights of ordinary Americans.