The Latest Technology That’s Tracking Your Every Move? Surveillance Balloons.

High-altitude airships can track individual cars through adverse conditions

Surveillance balloons
Surveillance balloons are being tested throughout the Midwest (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
By Kirk Miller / August 5, 2019 10:32 am

Given a list of all the hi-tech ways you’re being tracked, “balloon” isn’t probably on your list.

Better get used to having (slow, steady) eyes in the sky. The U.S. military is using experimental high-altitude balloons to conduct surveillance, according to a new report by The Guardian. Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched in rural South Dakota and are scanning areas across six midwestern states during a trial run.

The balloons “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats,” according to a filing made by the Sierra Nevada Corporation to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The balloon tests were commissioned by the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), a joint security effort by the U.S. armed forces to combat drug shipments and help with disaster response.

Reaching a height of 65,000 feet, the balloons use a special radar and panoramic video to track individual vehicles, during day or night and through inclement weather. As well, they’re much cheaper to operate than aircraft and they can hover over a small given area for hours — and even stay aloft for up to a month at a time, according to one estimate by Raven Aerostar, the company providing the balloons.

While Southcom did not respond to requests for comment, Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union did tell The Guardian, “We do not think that American cities should be subject to wide-area surveillance in which every vehicle could be tracked wherever they go.”

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