Surveillance by planes scrutinized

Daily Editorial Board

The Associated Press has revealed that the low-flying planes recently circling United States cities are part of a secretive air force managed by the FBI. 
 
Late last month, one such plane drew public attention when it circled the Mall of America, Southdale Center and downtown Minneapolis for more than five hours. 
 
The FBI announced that the purpose of the aircraft is to gather surveillance for investigations. However, some of the planes can utilize technology capable of identifying people below via their cellphones. 
 
In response to this revelation, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., penned a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey asking for details about the planes’ equipment, purpose and legality. Franken cited the government’s need to defend both privacy and national security. 
 
Along similar lines, Franken recently advocated for a special provision to the newly approved USA Freedom Act, which limits the mass collection of U.S. phone records. The provision allows corporations to disclose certain government inquests they receive into customers’ data.
 
While it is difficult to feel surprised at the news of the FBI’s planes, we are nevertheless concerned by this development. We hope that federal authorities’ response to Franken’s letter will be as timely as the letter itself and that in the wake of the USA Freedom Act, the news of the FBI’s planes will remind Americans that debates about privacy versus security are far from over.