The FBI has revealed that since 2006 it has used unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct surveillance in 10 cases including in a kidnapping investigation, search and rescue operations, drug interdictions and to apprehend fugitives.
The FBI released that information in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., dated July 29, in which the bureau responds to a request by Paul for information on the agency’s use of drones and for the rules and procedures that govern the FBI’s use of UAVs. In addition, Paul placed a “hold” on the nomination of James Comey as FBI director until the bureau provided details about its use of UAVs.
The FBI’s letter said the agency has no plans to use UAVs to conduct general surveillance not related to a specific investigation. “The FBI uses UAVs in very limited circumstances to conduct surveillance when there is a specific, operational need,” the letter said.
The FBI adds that all proposals for the use of UAVs are reviewed by the bureau’s legal counsel to ensure the use of drones does not infringe on a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment; that the flight of an UAV is authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration; and that the drone is operated consistent with the FBI’s polices and procedures.
In addition, all FBI agents are trained on the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment, and are detailed in the bureau’s “Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide,” which sets forth the circumstances where the FBI would be required to seek a warrant during an investigation. “These principles apply to all of our investigations and any collection of information, regardless of the technical platform,” the letter said. Therefore, any investigation using UAVs must comply with the Fourth Amendment and the DIOG, the FBI said.
However, Paul disagrees with the FBI’s interpretation that the bureau does not “necessarily need a warrant to deploy this technology” to conduct surveillance on U.S. soil using drones. “However, given the fact that they did respond to my concerns over drone use on U.S. soil, I have decided to release my hold on the pending FBI director nominee,” Paul said.