The Secret Service has announced plans to fly its own drones in restricted airspace over Washington D.C. The agency, which has been hit by a number of recent high profile security breaches into the White House grounds, has declined to say what the flights are for, nor specifically when they will occur. But experts have speculated that the Secret Service has developed drones that can be used for surveillance against unmanned aerial vehicles which violate White House airspace but stopped short of saying they now possess weaponized UAVs.
In January, the agency was embarrassed when a small drone piloted by a drunk government employee crash landed onto the White House lawn and recently Paris has been unnerved by a spate of drones seen buzzing the Eiffel Tower, the US Embassy and other key city landmarks. The January episode highlighted a serious security gap that the Secret Service has so far been unable to plug – how to combat the threat of drones flown over the nation’s capital and specifically against the White House.
Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition said he thinks that the flights are firstly a public relations exercise designed to restore confidence but he is worried about what the agency will do with all the surveillance material it collects.
‘The beauty of their exercise is they get to do real-world outdoor operations that will promote safety for the White House, for monuments and for the general public,’ said Drobac. ‘(But) If the Secret Service uses it inappropriately, I’d be the first to say they have to stop that,” he said. “They’re going to have to disclose what they intend to do at some point, because that’s exactly what it says in the executive order. Agencies have to be transparent.’ The executive order was issued by President Obama in February and governs how any federal agencies using drones keep information gathered. All agencies wishing to use drones must publish their own guidelines on keeping and gathering the information so that people’s privacy is not violated.