FBI Refuses To Release Legally Mandated Report On Drone Surveillance

Josh Evans Contributor
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Watchdog organizations have just submitted a new round of requests in an ongoing struggle to force the Federal Bureau of Investigation to make reports on the privacy implications of its drone surveillance public.

According to the E-Government Act of 2002, government agencies are required to publish a privacy impact assessment (PIA) prior to utilizing any technology that collects personal information. Despite the fact that the FBI has been deploying drones since at least 2005, the only PIA released by the bureau was fully redacted, Motherboard reports. Even then, the fully redacted report was only released after a lawsuit from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

In contrast, the Department of Homeland Security has released two PIAs in full on the use of both Predator drones and smaller unmanned vehicles. One of the reports noted that drones could be difficult to detect due to their small size and ability to hover at high altitudes, presenting a potential threat to privacy.

According to Department of Justice guidelines, PIAs must be publicly available and must also be written in a way that can be understood by the general population, although the DOJ provides an exception “if such publication would raise security concerns, or would reveal classified, sensitive or otherwise protected information.”

However, if an agency chooses to withhold a PIA for one of these reasons, it must publish a separate report justifying its decision. The FBI has withheld this report as well.

Both CREW and news site MuckRock are continuing to seek out these reports. MuckRock filed a new request on Thursday for both the FBI’s drone PIA and its justification for concealing it in the first place.

“Answering these questions will not only shed light on the drone program, but will go a long way toward fulfilling the administration’s promise of transparency and the public accountability it brings,” CREW stated on its blog.

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Josh Evans