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Coalition wants clarity on ‘secret drone surveillance program’

written by David Hollingworth | May 31, 2024

The DJI Mavic 2 quadcopter drone. (Image: DJI)

The Labor government’s woes regarding more than 150 immigration detainees recently released into the community following an Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision took a turn this week when Immigration Minister Andrew Giles admitted that drones were tracking the 153-person cohort.

When asked on Sky News why the Australian Border Force had told Senate Estimates two of the former detainees, both convicted of violent crimes, were not being tracked with electronic ankle bracelets, Giles responded that they were being monitored and that the government was assisting law enforcement in monitoring them.

“There is a quarter of a billion dollars that we’ve invested in supporting our law enforcement agencies to enforce that and that’s enabled things like using drones to keep track of these people,” Minister Giles said.

“We know where they are.”

When pressed on the matter, Minister Giles went into more detail.


“There is so much being done for this cohort: spot checks, random house checks, as well as the use of drones that I just touched on,” Minister Giles said.

Australian Aviation’s sister brand, Cyber Daily, contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment, and the questions were passed on to the ABF.

The ABF, however, refused to confirm the Immigration Minister’s comments or comment on how the drones were being operated.

“The Australian Border Force does not comment on the specifics of its operational capability or that of its law enforcement partners,” an ABF spokesperson said.

“Under Operation AEGIS, ABF and Australian Federal Police are working closely with state and territory authorities and law enforcement to ensure community safety.

“The use of surveillance technology by law enforcement agencies is governed by strict legislative requirements.”

Shadow home affairs minister, James Paterson, said he was “startled” by Minister Giles’ admission, and called on him to come clean on how they were being used.

Responding to the ABF’s comments, shadow minister Paterson called for an urgent response.

“It looks like Minister Giles accidentally spilled the beans on a secret drone surveillance program run by Border Force within Australia,” shadow minister Paterson said.

“He should urgently clarify what he meant when he said former detainees were being monitored by drones in our community.”

Shadow minister Paterson has said he will continue to question how the operation is being run at Senate Estimates.

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