US Border Drone Crash Distracts From Larger Issues in Their Use

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The United States has grounded a fleet of drones used to monitor the border with Mexico following the crash of an unmanned aircraft, an event that distracts from larger issues surrounding the use of drones to monitor and combat transnational crime.

The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) decided to suspend its fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly known as “drones”) used to help guard the border after one crashed off the coast of southern California, reported El Espectador.

The aircraft was apparently unable to return to its base in Sierra Vista, Arizona due to a mechanical failure. This prompted the operators to deliberately crash-land it in the ocean in order to prevent an accident in a populated area, and thus avoid revealing sensitive technology. The US Coast Guard was dispatched immediately to recover any wreckage of the drone, which was worth around $12 million.

The CBP operates a fleet of ten Predator B drones, and has been using drones along the Mexico border since 2005. The drones, which are used to combat illegal immigration and potential terrorist activity, are able to remain airborne for 20 hours at elevations of up to 50,000 feet, reported El Espectador.

The rest of the fleet was grounded as a precaution pending investigation into the exact cause of the crash.

InSight Crime Analysis

The use of drones to patrol borders is a case of technology moving much faster than laws and international agreements. While the United States has been increasing its reliance on drones to monitor its southern border with Mexico and the Caribbean, the absence of international standards has created a gray area around the devices, and their use to monitor the border is a touchy issue that raises questions over sovereignty and privacy.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the US/Mexico Border

It appears inevitable that the use of drones in crime hotspots will become commonplace, as their operating capacities offer distinct advantages in combating drug trafficking and other transnational crime. Yet the ambiguities regarding their proper role and accepted use need to be addressed.

These ambiguities include the questions of when the United States needs permission to spy on Mexican nationals and how the privacy of US citizens living in border areas will be affected. Mexican police in Tijuana have also been using low-altitude drones for surveillance; will these be allowed to enter US airspace?

Considering the major implications of these issues, the technical concerns surrounding the crash of the US drone are comparatively minor.

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