In a letter publicized last Thursday to Senator Rand Paul (Kentucky-R), the FBI admitted to using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, ten times within the United States.
“Since late 2006, the FBI has conducted surveillance using UAV’s in eight criminal cases and two national security cases,” wrote FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The publicized letter was one of two sent to Senator Paul in response to his widely publicized demands that Director Mueller detail how the FBI utilizes drones within the borders of the United States. The senator sent an open letter to Director Muller on June 20, a day after Mueller admitted in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to using the FBI’s use of drones in watching American citizens. After receiving no answer from the FBI, Paul followed up with a second open letter on July 9, threatening to filibuster the confirmation hearing for Mueller’s successor, James Comey, if a response was not given. Mueller then issued his response last week. Of the two letters sent to Paul, one declassified, and made available for public viewing; the other was classified and contained further details on the operations described in the declassified one.
In the declassified letter, Mueller explained the FBI’s usage of drones in the U.S., stating that the agency only obtains warrants for drone use when the individual under surveillance has “reasonable expectation of privacy.” In other instances, an internal approval process is used.
Without a warrant, the FBI will not use UAVs to acquire information in which individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” the letter explained.
“The FBI uses UAVs in very limited circumstances to conduct surveillance when there is a specific, operational need,” the letter continued. “UAVs have been used for surveillance to support missions related to kidnappings, search and rescue operations, drug interdictions, and fugitive investigations.”
Paul, however, was not satisfied with the explanation provided by the Mueller, and communicated concerns regarding the definition of “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
“It is important that you clarify your interpretation of when an individual is assumed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” said Paul. “I am concerned that an overbroad interpretation of this protection would enable more substantial information collection on an individual in a circumstance they might not have believed was subject to surveillance.”