Yesterday Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, admitted that, yeah, the FBI is totally using spy drones. This is actually the first official acknowledgement that they’re doing this… and that’s all you’re going to get, unless citizens groups win a few lawsuits.
First off, the drones themselves are only for very “particular” cases and situations, according to Mueller, who said their “footprint” was very small and they only had a few of them. OK, so, Bob, you won’t have any problem providing us with information like what cities these drones were used near, or the specific number of cases, or anything that fits in with a FOIA request, right? As the Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered, yeah, not so much.
One interesting fact is that the Bureau has withheld most of the records under several statutes and regulations related to the arms exports and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). This is surprising because, although ITAR does apply explicitly to drones, not even the US Military has claimed these statutes in withholding information from its drone records.
The EFF reports they have an easier time getting this information out of the military, of all people. And that’s troubling for more than one reason.
First of all, obviously, we’ve got no idea what the Feds are up to with these things within the limits of the law. Obviously the FBI isn’t going to put the names and addresses of people they’re currently investigating out there, but the FBI won’t even fork over basic FAA paperwork.
Secondly, and just as troublingly, we have no idea what these drones are even for. Keep in mind drones can be used for a wide variety of reasons, from long-range photography to intercepting communications. Keep in mind that any data “inadvertently” collected on US citizens can still be kept and used without a warrant under the rules, so for all we know the FBI’s just been flying these things cross-country listening to your phone conversations for giggles.
We’re fairly sure this is going to unwind quickly; the FBI is in blatant violation of the Freedom of Information Act, from the looks of things. But, until then, watch the skies.