President Barack Obama is preparing an executive order that requires federal agencies such as the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security, among others, to reveal details about the activities of their drone fleets.
The directive will force agencies to reveal details about both the size and the surveillance capabilities of their growing fleets of unmanned aircraft, reports The Washington Post
The order will apply only to the machines that are used in U.S. airspace, not anything that is used to cover military and intelligence operations.
Ned Price, a White House spokesman, said that an "interagency review" of the order is underway, and other officials told The Post that drafts of the order have been sent out to federal agencies for their input.
Privacy advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have called for the measure for some time, and until now, much was not released except under court order through public records lawsuits, reports The Post.
“We’re undergoing a quiet revolution in aerial surveillance,” said ACLU legislative counsel Chris Calabrese. “But we haven’t had all in one place a clear picture of how this technology is being used. Nor is it clear that the agencies themselves know how it is being used.”
Lawmakers have also been introducing legislation to limit federal drone use, reports The Hill
. Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., have proposed a House bill that requires law enforcement agencies to get a judge's order before using drones and to prevent them from being armed. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey has proposed a bill that requires police to get warrants before using drones.
The Pentagon and Homeland Security would be affected by the order most, reports The Post. Homeland Security flies surveillance drones along the nation's borders, while the Pentagon conducts drone training missions.
The order would not require military or law enforcement agencies to reveal sensitive operations, but would require information about privacy safeguards they use for the images their drones capture.
Congress has also had trouble getting information about federal agencies' drone use. Lawmakers in March 2013 directed the Defense Department
to provide a report about its policies of sharing drone images with law enforcement agencies, but that order has not yet been met.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has also reluctantly answered questions about their drones, with the FBI first disclosing their use in 2013 and then admitting they'd been using unmanned aircraft since 2006, reports The Post.
However, the FBI has not disclosed any results of an investigation into drone surveillance privacy measures.
Last year, the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued the FBI for its records on drones, and the agency responded with pages of documents that contained large sections of redacted information.
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