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Lawmakers sounding off on domestic drone use

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The revelations that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been using unmanned drones to scour the United States have prompted passionate discussion among lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum. The debate comes as U.S. President Barack Obama nominates a new FBI director. The bureau is under increasing pressure from lawmakers to explain the limits of its recently disclosed drone fleet.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Senators on both have fired off sharply worded letters and statements in recent days criticizing the FBI for deploying surveillance drones without clear guidance on how to protect privacy rights.

"I am disturbed by the revelation that the FBI has unilaterally decided to begin using drone surveillance technology without a governance policy, and thus without the requisite assurances that the constitutional rights of Americans are being protected," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says.

Paul was the latest to scrutinize the bureau, and sent a letter to outgoing Director Robert Mueller asking a string of questions about his agency's drone use.

Mueller had earlier acknowledged during a Senate hearing, that the bureau has a limited number of drones that it uses for surveillance on U.S. soil, stressing that they are used in a "very, very minimal way and very seldom."

As evidence, freshly procured documents show that the FBI has sought and received permission from the FAA at least four times to fly surveillance drones inside the U.S. since 2010.

The revelations come at a time when the use of non-lethal drones for surveillance purposes is quickly gaining favor among local law enforcement agencies and others. Mueller, in acknowledging that the FBI, too, has obtained surveillance drones, said the bureau is in the "initial stages" of drafting rules and regulations for their use."

"I am concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the 'initial stages' of developing guidelines to protect Americans' privacy rights," Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said, who took umbrage that while drones have the potential to help law enforcement agencies, constitutional rights must come first.
 
"I look forward to learning more about this program and will do everything in my power to hold the FBI accountable and ensure its actions respect the U.S. Constitution," he said in a statement.

The FBI clarified that its drone use is governed by existing bureau regulations and FAA rules. The specific drone model is the PUMA AE, manufactured by California firm AeroVironment. Hand-launched, battery-powered the PUMA AE can send live color and thermal video to its operator. It is designed to respond to disasters and other incidents.

The issue is likely to follow Obama's new nominee to lead the FBI, Jim Comey. Obama nominated the former federal prosecutor on Friday.

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