BCA releases additional details on drone use

January 6, 2014

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) has responded to a PRM data practices request related to that agency’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Information previously obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Minnesota Public Radio indicated that the BCA had utilized federal UAVs for a number of Minnesota law enforcement missions. The UAVs were reportedly owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In light of those reports, PRM submitted a records request that sought information regarding formal arrangements between the BCA and DHS, policies regarding drone use, the BCA’s legal threshold for drone use, and data regarding the surveillance capabilities of the drones utilized.

The BCA responded to PRM’s request with the following statement:

“The BCA has utilized UAVs in a handful of cases through the US Department of Homeland Security. In those instances the BCA requests the assistance of the US Department of Homeland Security to assist in providing aerial surveillance. If it falls within their criteria the Department of Homeland Security will provide that assistance. In these cases the requests have come to the BCA through other agencies working with the BCA. The cases have involved searching for marijuana grows on public lands. To date, the BCA has only used UVAs over public lands.

Because the BCA neither owns or operates such equipment there are no MOUs, contracts, or agreements with the Department of Homeland Security or the United States Customs and Border Patrol. Also, because the BCA does not own or operate such equipment there are no policies or legal basis documents. Consequently, there are no data responsive to your request.”

The BCA’s letter does not directly address the degree to which the agency might have data that describes the surveillance capabilities of DHS-owned UAVs.

PRM expects to receive more information about the use of drones in Minnesota later this month, once the Federal Aviation Administration responds to our most recent FOIA request on the subject.