[cbsnews.com] The Homeland Security Department will use unmanned surveillance aircraft and other technological upgrades in its ongoing effort to protect the southern border of the United States.
The department said Wednesday it has obtained Federal Aviation Administration permission to operate unmanned planes along the Texas border and throughout the Gulf Coast region. Customs and Border Protection will base a surveillance drone at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas.
Homeland Security also said it is working with the Office of National Drug Control Policy on "Project Roadrunner," a license plate recognition system designed to seek out possible drug traffickers.
And the department is collaborating with the Justice Department to improve information sharing between state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.
In a speech at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a Washington think tank, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also announced a new partnership with the Major Cities Chiefs Association. The agreement would allow non-border cities to provide more assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies that are on the border.
Unmanned aircraft have proved their usefulness and reliability in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. But allowing them to fly in the United States raises questions about civil liberties as the government expands it ability to surveil its own citizens.
Officials are also worried that unmanned aircraft in the U.S. might plow into airliners, cargo planes and corporate jets that zoom around at high altitudes, or helicopters and hot air balloons that fly as low as a few hundred feet off the ground.
On top of that, these pilotless aircraft come in a variety of sizes. Some are as big as a small airliner, others the size of a backpack. The tiniest are small enough to fly through a house window.
There are two types of unmanned planes: Drones, which are automated planes programmed to fly a particular mission, and aircraft that are remotely controlled by someone on the ground, sometimes from thousands of miles away.
As the FAA weighs the barrage of requests, America’s heavy reliance on drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan has come under increasing fire from the international community, with a United Nations official issuing a report arguing that drone strikes amount to a "license to kill" without any accountability – a license the U.S. would not want any other country to have.
As CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported, an operation the U.S. government doesn’t even admit exists has killed more than 500 people.