Skip to main content

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

  1. Home
  2. Border Security
  3. From The Air and Sea
  4. Air and Marine Operations Air Asset Myth versus Fact

Air and Marine Operations Air Asset Myth versus Fact

With established locations throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, AMO employs approximately 1,800 federal agents and mission support personnel, 240 aircraft, and 300 marine vessels. AMO conducts its missions throughout the United States, at its borders, and beyond in the air and maritime environments.


MYTH: CBP Air and Marine Operations (AMO) is only authorized to operate within 100 miles of the border.

FACT: AMO operates aircraft and vessels under 6 USC § 211(f)(3)(C), which authorizes the agency to conduct aviation and maritime operations in support of federal, state, local, tribal, and international law enforcement agencies without any geographic limitation for such operations. Appropriations for these authorities are also provided pursuant to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, P.L. 116-93, Div. D, Title II.

MYTH: Aerial surveillance violates my constitutional rights

FACT: CBP conducted an in-depth privacy impact assessment in 2013 and 2018. CBP’s use of manned and unmanned aircraft to conduct aerial observations is consistent with CBP’s authorities and obligations. To the extent that aircraft flying in support of tactical operations fly over private residences, there is a minimal risk that a person’s privacy might be unintentionally violated. The images captured are not personally identifiable without further investigative information. View the privacy impact assessments.

MYTH: AMO uses facial recognition software through its aircraft cameras to identify individuals.

FACT: AMO does not possess or utilize facial recognition technology on any of its aircraft. AMO does not own or have access to any facial recognition algorithms or software.  Additionally, on-board cameras cannot provide enough resolution or detail to identify a person (that is, to discern physical characteristics such as height, weight, eye color, hairstyle, or a facial image), or to discern a vehicle license plate number.  These cameras can be used to discern rough details such as clothing color, the presence of an item such as a backpack, or in some cases whether an individual is carrying an unconcealed weapon that may pose a threat.

MYTH: AMO Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) collect and record data on observed individuals.

FACT:  AMO manned and unmanned aircraft, when equipped with cameras, radar, or other technologies, have the capability to collect raw data in the form of video, still images, or radar returns. This data cannot discern any personally identifiable information.  It can be used to advise law enforcement partner agencies regarding the locations of vessels, conveyances, and number of individuals. This information may ultimately lead to an arrest or seizure and may serve as evidence to prove a violation of law. Video, still images, and radar data collected by UAS remain stored on the recording device with limited storage capacity until overwritten by subsequent mission data, in a period typically no longer than 30 days. This raw mission data is shared with CBP Office of Intelligence (CBP OI) which is responsible for storing and managing the data and is typically used by CBP OI for macro data analysis without association to specific individuals, to determine cross-border or maritime traffic trends. CBP OI may retain the data for a period of 5 years under normal circumstances, or 10 years if the mission data includes information regarding aircraft mishaps, or if the mission data has been identified as evidence in an investigation.
Additionally, AMO aircraft can provide real-time, live video feeds to ground-based law enforcement officials, increasing their situational awareness for public safety, and facilitating a rapid response to volatile situations that may quickly become violent, minimizing the overall threat to persons and property.  Archived footage from UAS cameras may be shared with other law enforcement agencies when needed for an investigation or in connection with law enforcement activity. Such requests for footage must be reviewed and evaluated before dissemination by the CBP Office of Intelligence.

MYTH: CBP and AMO’s missions are restricted to immigration enforcement.

FACT: CBP and AMO conduct operations, as authorized by 6 USC § 211.  Specifically, pursuant to 6 USC 211(f)(3)(C), AMO conducts operations with other federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement entities to assist law enforcement and humanitarian relief efforts.
AMO carries out its mission nationwide and beyond America’s borders, consistent with federal laws and policies. During humanitarian missions, AMO regularly deploys its aircraft to assist Federal Emergency Management Agency in assessing hurricane affected areas, in coordination with the National Weather Service to capture imagery of storm impacted areas, and with federal, state and local partners to conduct search and rescue missions, in addition to carrying out its law enforcement mission.

MYTH: These aircraft are the same as aircraft used by the military.

FACT: The manufacturer of AMO’s MQ-9 UAS is General Atomics.  General Atomics manufactures multiple variations of the MQ-9 and while the basic airframe is standard for both CBP and The Department of Defense, the capabilities included with variations sold to the military are much different than those employed by CBP.  For example, CBP AMO MQ-9 UAS are not capable of being armed and are configured to meet AMO’s law enforcement mission requirements.

Watch a demonstration of AMO UAS video capabilities.

Last Modified: Jun 25, 2020