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Inspector general says use of surveillance planes during George Floyd protests was legal

Report says aircraft did not violate the law, though military does not have appropriate rules in place for governing its use

Published: August 22, 2020 11:42am

Updated: August 22, 2020 2:39pm

A report from the U.S. Air Force Inspector General has deemed legal the usage of surveillance planes during the protests and riots that gripped much of the country in May and June, though the report warned that the Defense Department lacks appropriate rules governing the overall use of those aircraft. 

Numerous National Guard planes were used to survey the unrest that stemmed from the police-involved killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd in May. The inspector general determined this week that the planes were used as a general oversight tool and were not deployed to gather intelligence on individual American citizens. 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered the investigation after questions arose regarding the legality of such measures. The craft were deployed in Arizona, California, Minnesota and the District of Columbia during the height of the protests. 

The report also concluded that the military lacks proper guidelines for when such aircraft should be used. The inspector general also pointed out that the aircraft in question, the RC-26, is incorrectly considered by military officials to be a non-intelligence craft.

In late May, Customs and Border Protection dispatched a drone to survey protests in Minneapolis, one of cities most heavily affected by violent rioting. The agency later said it had sent the drone "to aid in situational awareness" of the protests. 

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