The FBI says it used unmanned drones for aerial surveillance in the United States 10 times since 2006, a revelation that sparked a demand for more details on privacy safeguards for the domestic missions.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul released a letter from Stephen Kelly, the FBI's director of legislative affairs, conceding the agency uses drones in "very limited circumstances" — eight times for criminal cases and twice for national security, The Hill reported
Kelly said none of the drones were loaded with either lethal or non-lethal weapons.
In one instance, Kelly said the agency used a drone earlier this year in Alabama to support the rescue of a 5-year-old boy being held hostage in an underground bunker.
"The FBI does not use [unmanned aerial vehicles] to conduct 'bulk' surveillance or to conduct general surveillance not related to an investigation or assessment," Kelly wrote.
An FBI lawyer reviews all requests and senior management has to approve the use of a drone, the bureau contends. In addition, the FBI would obtain a warrant to use a drone to gather information for which a person “would have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” the agency says.
But the bureau states it hasn’t yet needed to ask for a warrant; it provided additional details to Paul in a separate classified letter, The Hill reported.
Paul, who staged a filibuster earlier this year to protest deadly drone strikes, was irked that the letters failed to answer all his questions — and sent a follow-up missive today pressing for the FBI’s interpretation of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” that would trigger a warrant, The Hill reported.
Last month, FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged the use of drones for domestic surveillance — and said the bureau was developing guidelines for their future law enforcement use.
He told the Senate Judiciary Committee the unmanned drones are deployed in "a very minimal way and very seldom.''
"Our footprint is very small,'' the director said at the time.”We’d have very few.''
“To me, it’s Big Brother in the sky,” said Dave Norris, a Charlottesville city councilman. “I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial about it, but these drones are coming, and we need to put some safeguards in place so they are not abused.”
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