As President Trump maps out plans for a border wall with Mexico, Customs and Border Protection is looking at a more mobile way to monitor the border: consumer drones. The agency is currently soliciting proposals for small unmanned aerial systems, similar to consumer drones manufactured by DJI and Parrot, to be deployed by US Border Patrol agents in the field.
First described in a contractor solicitation notice last summer, the proposed aircraft would be small enough to be carried in a truck and simple enough to be deployed by a single border agent in less than five minutes. The crafts would also be outfitted with sophisticated sensors, which may include infrared cameras and facial-recognition capabilities. The solicitation specifically asks for "sUAS," a term typically used for consumer-grade drones under 55 pounds, and a significant contrast from the Predator B drones that have patrolled the border in the past.
One technical document included with the solicitation imagined a drone that could "distinguish between natural and artificial features, and between animals, humans, and vehicles at long range." The drone would also include "facial recognition capabilities that allow it cross-reference any persons identified with relevant law enforcement databases." The scenario meant as a hypothetical, illustrating the type of capability CBP is looking for rather than indicating a specific requirement. Still, those facial-recognition capabilities would work well with Homeland Security's IDENT database, which currently contains more than 170 million fingerprints and facial images collected from non-citizens as they enter the United States. The FBI's facial-recognition checks reach even further, scanning across 411 million photos in state and federal databases.