The FBI has finally admitted to using aerial drones on U.S. soil. During a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, FBI Director Robert Mueller told senators that the agency does in fact use drones for domestic surveillance. This news comes on the heels of the dramatic revelations of the NSA’s vast domestic surveillance system, adding to concerns of civil liberties advocates. Drones—unmanned aircrafts that can be controlled from the ground or preprogrammed for flight—are already known to be used by some local U.S. police departments, for southern border patrol, and abroad for controversial armed missions. But Mueller’s admission is the first FBI acknowledgement that drones have been used to monitor U.S. citizens. Following his admission, Mueller qualified that domestic drones are only used in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom.” Some participants in the hearing remained critical of the revelation. As reported by the Guardian: Dianne Feinstein, who is also chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said the issue of drones worried her far more than telephone and internet surveillance, which she believes are subject to sufficient legal oversight.Feinstein has been a consistent defender of the NSA’s surveillance tactics, but the California Democrat found the news of domestic drone use concerning. According to the Verge, Feinstein responded: “I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone, and the use of the drone and the very few regulations that are on it today.”While the FBI did admit to using domestic drones today, Mueller added that they are in the beginning phases of identifying regulations for these surveillance tactics. Critics of the newly revealed government surveillance measures, however, aren’t likely to be comforted by these words, and the debate over domestic drone use will only be further energized by today’s disclosure.
Emma Foehringer Merchant is a summer 2013 editorial intern.