FBI Drones Used in Domestic Surveillance, Director Admits

Thursday, 20 Jun 2013 08:43 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Drones are used in domestic surveillance, FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed Wednesday during a Senate testimony.

Mueller's admission is the first time the federal agency has acknowledged using unmanned aerial vehicles domestically, which has been a growing concern among citizens.

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In his testimony, Mueller stressed surveillance operations were conducted on a very limited basis in the U.S.

"It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability," Mueller told the Senators. "It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs."

According to Mueller, the FBI is in "the initial stages" of formulating privacy guidelines in connection to its use of drones, Bloomberg News reports.

"There are a number of issues related to drones that will need to be debated in the future," Mueller added. "It’s still in its nascent stages, this debate."

According to a U.S. law enforcement official, drones are only used when there’s a specific operational need to conduct surveillance on stationary objects, Bloomberg News reported.
To use a drone domestically, the bureau must first obtain approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

An estimated 10,000 active commercial drones are expected to be deployed in the U.S. in five years, according to the FAA.

In response to the privacy fears surrounding drone use, some 18 states have introduced bills to limit or regulate the aircrafts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Colorado's Democratic Senator Mark Udall is among those concerned by the expansion.

"Unmanned aerial systems have the potential to more efficiently and effectively perform law enforcement duties, but the American people expect the FBI and other government agencies to first and foremost protect their constitutional rights," Udall said in a statement on Wednesday.

In contrast, New York Republican Rep. Peter King supports the program.

"So long as it’s not penetrating someone’s home, there’s no Fourth Amendment issue — obviously, it’s not something that should be abused — it’s a legitimate law-enforcement tool that should be used in certain circumstances," King told CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday.

Homeland Security deploys drones regularly along U.S.'s southern border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigration.

Over-reaching surveillance concerns have been reignited by the recent National Security Agency leaking scandal involving former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, who earlier this month released top-secret documents detailing the NSA's internet-tapping program known as PRISM program.

Instituted by the U.S. government in 2007, PRISM essentially serves as an Internet wiretap, allowing them to record audio, video, photographs, chats, emails, documents, and connection logs from virtually every major tech company, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.

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Snowden leaked the highly sensitive material primarily to the British newspaper The Guardian from his Hong Kong hotel room after smuggling classified documents from the agency's computers via a USB drive.

The 29-year-old self-described "whistleblower" told the Guardian that he did what he did because he didn't "want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity."

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