DOJ: FBI privacy rules for drones same as manned aircraft

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The FBI has no rules for drones, a new report says.

Due to a lack of established privacy regulations regarding federal law enforcement’s use of surveillance drones, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been treating drones as if they were manned aircraft.

In an interim report released Thursday, the Justice Department Office of Inspector General found that the FBI has been applying the privacy rules for manned aircraft to drones as well.

““Unlike manned aircraft, UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] can be used in close proximity to a home and, with longer-lasting power systems, may be capable of flying for several hours or even days at a time, raising unique concerns about privacy and the collection of evidence,” said the report.

The interim report, which recommends the creation of privacy policies specific to drone use, states that it presents “an overview of DOJ’s UAS use and policies as of May 2013.”

UAS, or unmanned aerial system, is the official name for drones.

“No agency, including the FBI, should deploy domestic surveillance drones without first having strong privacy guidelines in place,” said Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, in a statement regarding the report.

“We’re encouraged by the inspector general’s recognition that drones have created a need for privacy policies covering aerial surveillance,” said Stanley.

As the nation continues to prepare for the integration of drones into domestic airspace, the debate over establishing privacy regulations for the drones has been fierce.

“We urge the Justice Department to make good on its plans to develop privacy rules that protect Americans from another mass surveillance technology,” said Stanley.

“Congress, however, should pass legislation introduced by Reps. Ted Poe and Zoe Lofgren that requires law enforcement to get judicial approval before deploying drones, and explicitly forbids the arming of these machines,” he said.

The FBI admitted to Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul in July that the bureau had used surveillance drones 10 times since 2006 for criminal and national security investigations.

The FBI also told Paul that that warrants were not required for the bureau to use domestic drones for surveillance.

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