Unmanned Aerial Systems: Department of Homeland Security's Review of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Use and Compliance with Privacy and Civil Liberty Laws and Standards
What GAO Found
In its review of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that CBP has an oversight framework and procedures for its UAS program that help ensure its compliance with privacy and civil liberty laws and standards. DHS’s review contains information on CBP procedures on collecting, retaining, storing, and disseminating images from UAS, among others, to help ensure compliance with privacy and civil liberty laws and standards. DHS’s review did not address the extent to which CBP had institutionalized these procedures in written policies. However, GAO found that CBP has taken steps to document these procedures and has issued or plans to issue policies to institutionalize the procedures that help protect privacy and civil liberties.
DHS’s review found that CBP’s use of UAS is not limited to border and coastal areas of the United States. According to DHS’s review, the location of UAS operations is limited by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements and CBP’s policies and procedures. DHS’s review did not address the extent to which CBP’s UAS operations are in border and coastal areas of the United States. GAO analysis of CBP UAS flight hour data found that over 80 percent of UAS flight hours were associated with border and coastal areas of the United States.
Why GAO Did This Study
House Committee Report 113-91 accompanying the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2014 mandated GAO to review DHS’s Privacy Office (Privacy Office) and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) joint review (DHS’s review) of CBP’s unmanned aerial systems program. House Committee Report 113-91 accompanying the fiscal year 2014 DHS Appropriations Act also mandated CRCL and the Privacy Office to conduct a review of CBP’s efforts to ensure that CBP’s UAS use (1) complies with existing law and applicable privacy and civil liberty standards and (2) is limited to operation along the border and coastal areas. CRCL and the Privacy Office completed their review and provided it to GAO on June 12, 2014.
This report examines the extent to which DHS’s review of CBP’s UAS addressed CBP efforts to (1) ensure compliance with existing privacy and civil liberty laws and standards and (2) ensure its UAS usage is limited to border and coastal areas of the United States.
GAO analyzed DHS’s review, CBP policies, and UAS flight data from fiscal year 2011 through April 2014, covering the time period when all UAS centers became operational.
GAO makes no recommendations in this report.