Media Contact

Janna Farley,

August 2, 2019

The U.S. military is conducting wide-area surveillance tests across six Midwest states, including South Dakota, using experimental high-altitude balloons, according to a report in The Guardian.

This technology could violate the privacy of all South Dakotans, the ACLU of South Dakota says.

“Technology like this runs the risk of turning South Dakota into a surveillance state and violating the privacy of every South Dakotan,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota. “We’re not talking about closed-circuit TV cameras or camera in discrete places. This is area-wide surveillance that essentially creates a pervasive checkpoint over entire cities and metro area. The military needs to be very clear about what information they’re collecting and what they’re doing with the information.”

Because this technology is capable of recording and storing all public movement over large areas – entire cities or metro areas – this kind of mass surveillance destroys any level of anonymity South Dakotans have.

“There are so many unanswered questions here,” Skarin said. “What information is being collected? What information is being stored? Who has access to this information? Is the surveillance for law enforcement purposes? At a minimum, there should be consultation and approval from local communities before the federal government subjects South Dakotans to area-wide surveillance.”

Three times in last seven years, the United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of privacy when considering advances in technology:

  • GPS tracking case, U.S. v. Jones 565 U.S. 400 (2012). Law enforcement may not install GPS tracking device on a vehicle to monitor the vehicle's movements without a search warrant
  • Searching a phone incident to arrest case, Riley v. California, 573 U.S. __ (2014). Warrantless search and seizure of digital contents of a cell phone during an arrest is unconstitutional.
  • Cell phone tracking case (ACLU filed amicus and presented oral argument in this case), Carpenter v. United States, No. 16-402, 585 U.S. ____ (2018). The government violates the Fourth Amendment by accessing historical records containing the physical locations of cellphones without a search warrant. Here, the Court said that there’s a distinction between being “observable” in the old sense – law enforcement following a person – and being “observable” in new sense because of technological advances – one camera can follow an entire city and/or metro area.

About the ACLU of South Dakota

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.

The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people.  In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.