Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller admitted to senators Wednesday that the agency is using small unmanned and unarmed drones for surveillance in the U.S. and developing guidelines for the law enforcement use of such technology.
Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the use of the airplane model-sized drones was limited. He made the statement to senators when questioned about it during his testimony on the National Security Agency’s secret program of collecting domestic phone call and online usage data for counterterrorism intelligence.
The FBI issued a statement following Mueller’s testimony saying that drones are used to obtain critical information when there is risk of harm in getting the same by a law enforcer. The FBI statement added that unmanned aerial vehicles are only used to survey stationary subjects and required approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Panel member Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), initiated the drone discussion Wednesday after Attorney General Eric Holder mentioned in a previous testimony that the Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives had acquired drones for use in their operation.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Chris Calabrese told the senate committee that it was “a little troubling” that the FBI had begun using the technology while guidelines were still being developed. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Utah) said he recognizes the drones’ effectiveness but the FBI should first protect the constitutional rights of Americans.