While previous reports have indicated that the FBI has sought to employ drone technology for years, newly unveiled documents from inside the agency show the extent to which the bureau believes it has the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance.
Growing skepticism over the US foreign drone program and how it may be used in connection with domestic security inspired Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) to file suit against the FBI. CREW, using a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, defeated the FBI in court and compelled law enforcement to turn over a database of documents on the growing drone program.
Among that stockpile released earlier this month was an extensive deck of slides titled “Legal Challenges to the Use of UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems).” The slides provide a glimpse into the FBI’s future drone plans, which the bureau clearly hopes will not be impacted by legal restrictions, and will provide instructions for agents who hope to use drones in the field now.
A Justice Department inspector general report published in September indicated that the FBI has been quietly spending millions of dollars to operate a small fleet of unmanned aerial devices in recent years. Then-FBI director Robert Mueller said in June that the bureau was in the “initial stages” of writing privacy policies for its still-developing surveillance policy. However, it was later revealed that the FBI has been using drones in a limited capacity since 2006 – years before experts had previously speculated.