The FBI are using drones on US soil. The admission by the agency’s director has sparked further debate over privacy vs security in the USA.
FBI director Robert Mueller was put on the spot at a Senate hearing by a Republican senator on Wednesday.
Charles Grassley asked plainly: “Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on US soil?”
“Yes,” replied Mueller curtly.
Grassley continued, “I want to go onto a question…” as Mueller cuts in, “Well let me just put it in context now, in a very, very minimal way and very seldom.”
President Barack Obama admitted in May to the use of armed drones abroad, but authorities said domestic unmanned surveillance vehicles (UAV) did not carry weapons. However, Mueller did not say how many UAVs they had or how often they were used. It comes as the Obama administration faces scrutiny over its snooping into phone records at home and internet data abroad.
Drones are used to watch the Mexican border and in police pursuits as they are quieter and cheaper than traditional helicopters used for aerial views. The FBI cited a case where a boy was held hostage in a bunker in Alabama where UAVs were used. In each case they must get approval from the Federal Aviation authority and are confined to a ‘small geographic area’.
Congress has voted to open up US airspace to all unmanned aircraft by October 2015, meaning drones could become a part of the surveillance landscape very soon. Cheaper than helicopters, the UAVS can also be used in disaster zones to assess damage. Drone use guidelines are currently being sketched up. But many Americans are beginning to ask what price they must pay to live in the land of the free.