The Federal Bureau of Investigations employs the use of drones for surveillance on U.S. soil, the agency’s director told lawmakers on Wednesday.
At an oversight hearing conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted the agency is making use of unmanned aircraft, but he did not provide many details, other than to say the information obtained by the drones can at times be shared with other agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security.
Mueller said the FBI employs drones in the United States “in a very, very minimal way and very seldom.”
But Mueller suggested in his testimony that the drone use by the FBI is in its infancy and could grow. He said the agency “is in the initial stages,” of developing procedures and policies for drone use and the impact on privacy.
Mueller revealed the drone use in response to a query from Sen. Charles Grassley, of Iowa, who is the top Republican on the committee.
“I will tell you that our footprint is very small,” Mueller testified. “We have very few and of limited use and we’re exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use.”
In later questioning by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Mueller said rules governing drones for protecting the privacy of American citizens on U.S. soil are “in its nascent stages,” and is perhaps “worthy of debate and … legislation down the road.”
Hirono pointed out that a drone “can be very, very tiny but store a lot of data, and there could be cameras on it.”
She called the use of drones “a burgeoning concern for many of us.”
The FBI mission statement is to “protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats and to enforce the criminal laws of the United States.”
The agency has jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal law which include organized crime, violent crime and major thefts, white-collar crime, public corruption, terrorism, counterintelligence and civil rights.