Secret Service testing drone surveillance at Trump National Golf Club during president’s ‘working vacation’

"The Proof of Concept will help determine the potential future use of tethered sUAS in supporting the Agency’s protective mission," the Secret Service said in an announcement.
(Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington / Flickr)

President Donald Trump’s “working vacation” at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., is providing a job opportunity for one hot piece of technology — drones.

The Secret Service Counter Surveillance Division announced at the beginning of the month that it will be using this opportunity to test the use of tethered small unmanned aircraft systems as a surveillance and security tool. “The Proof of Concept will help determine the potential future use of tethered sUAS in supporting the Agency’s protective mission,” a report states.

Currently, the Secret Service uses manned aircraft for overhead surveillance. Unfortunately these aircraft have various weaknesses — they can’t be used consistently for long periods of time and they can be too loud for some locations. The Secret Service hopes drones might present a solution to these difficulties. As the announcement notes, drones have already been used by entities like the military to “increase situational awareness for decision makers, planners, and security personnel.”

And situational awareness is precisely what the Secret Service hopes to gain by flying a drone in Bedminster. “This Proof of Concept will assist future decisions on acquisition and deployment of similar systems,” the announcement report states.


The Secret Service will also consider the privacy concerns associated with the electro-optical and infrared cameras on the drone. “This privacy impact assessment (PIA) is necessary because the aircraft is equipped with technology that captures information that may be associated with persons who USSS encounters.” The announcement report details the ways in which the Secret Service will warn those whose privacy might be impacted during the test, and how the agency plans to protect any data gathered.

President Trump left D.C. Friday and plans to be at his golf club for 17 days. Firing back against those who have called it a vacation, Trump has continuously tweeted that he’ll be busy working from Bedminster during this time.

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