The FBI has been operating a fleet of small planes equipped with video and occasionally cell phone surveillance technology, concealing the information from the public by registering the aircraft under fictitious company names, the Associated Press has found.
What’s more, the surveillance is often used without a judge’s approval.
The AP found that the bureau flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states in a recent 30-day period.
The AP traced the aircraft, which the FBI acknowledged for the first time it was using, to at least 13 fake companies.
The technology allows the FBI to identify thousands of people on the ground through their cell phones.
The FBI says it’s doing nothing wrong.
“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement. “Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.” Allen added that the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”