Secret Service to test surveillance drone at Trump golf club

Shutterstock image (by Bruce Rolff): eyes in a binary tunnel.

The Secret Service will be testing a tethered surveillance drone at President  Donald Trump's golf course during a presidential visit, with an eye to its future use as part of the protective screen around the chief executive, according to a privacy assessment from the Department of Homeland Security.

The drone is unusual in that it is linked to its operator by a microfilament tether to provide power and to transmit secure video. The physical link may also be designed to reduce potential interference or hacking that could take place in a radio-controlled drone. The hardline power source also has the potential to increase flying time.

The drone will fly 300 to 400 feet above ground level and will use an electro-optical infrared camera to capture images. During the test, the drone will largely be confined to "the outer perimeter of the USSS-established secure zones of protection in and around the Trump National Golf Club," according to the DHS privacy impact assessment.

Images from the drone will be transmitted from the base station -- a laptop computer -- to a USSS Field Support System. According to the DHS notice, the camera doesn't produce images of sufficiently high resolution to work in conjunction with facial recognition software. The focus instead is on obtaining physical descriptions that could support identification of individuals when matched with other data. Club members and guests will be advised of the test prior to entering the property.

The test is designed to provide an additional layer of aerial surveillance to supplement what the Secret Service gets from other federal agencies as well as state and local law enforcement. But the notice indicates that using manned aircraft is an imperfect solution for some outdoor events and venues.

The Secret Service did not respond to questions about the vendor, but other agencies have used tethered drones for surveillance purposes. The Army for instance has purchased drones from CyPhy Works and other firms. The CyPhy Works' tethered system uses Kevlar-strengthened microfilament to protect the link between the drone and the operating unit.

The test is being conducted by the Counter Surveillance Division of the Secret Service.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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