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FBI Admits To Domestic Surveillance Drone Use 207

Posted by Soulskill
from the seeds-of-the-panopticon dept.
An anonymous reader writes "At a hearing today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI director Robert Mueller confirmed the agency is using unmanned drones for surveillance within the U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley asked, 'Does the FBI own or currently use drones and for what purpose?' Mueller replied, 'Yes, for surveillance.' Grassley then asked, 'Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on U.S. soil?' Mueller said, 'Yes, in a very, very minimal way, and seldom.' With regard to restricting the use of drones to protect citizens' privacy, Mueller said, 'It is still in nascent stages but it is worthy of debate and legislation down the road.' According to article, '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.'"
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FBI Admits To Domestic Surveillance Drone Use

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  • Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Optimal Cynic (2886377) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:27PM (#44052387)
    Why shouldn't they use drones? They use surveillance helicopters. This is just another method of doing the same thing.
  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:30PM (#44052441)

    'It is still in nascent stages but it is worthy of debate and legislation down the road.'

    Translation: We do whatever the fuck we want with them. Fuck the Constitution

  • by freeweaver (2548146) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:36PM (#44052499)

    It does not matter whether its a suprise to you or not. The point is to be outraged by people snooping on you without your knowledge. Thats very VERY creepy don't you think?

    If not, then I guess you won't mind me coming over to your house, climbing a ladder and peeping through your bedroom window, right?

    Please think about the ramifications of letting this kind of thing happen without any oversight. this is not the government being stupid. It is a governemt that wants to have ever more control over your everyday life. Do you want that? Think real hard now please. Because I can't name one single authority in history that has gained even half of the control the US government has, without it turning VERY NASTY!

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:38PM (#44052513) Journal

    Why shouldn't they use drones? They use surveillance helicopters. This is just another method of doing the same thing.

    Presumably because it's a markedly cheaper, easier, and quieter method of doing the same thing: Given the.. er... 'robust' state of law enforcement oversight, your major protection from any given investigative method is that it's a pain in the ass and/or expensive, and you aren't worth the effort. Reduce the effort, and you increase the number of people who are worth the effort.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ganjadude (952775) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:38PM (#44052515) Homepage
    let me put on my tin foil hat for a second here

    what happens when they can develop swarming nanobot flying insects with cameras and microphones on them that dont need to charge and are attracted to noise. always swarming above peoples heads and fully autonomous.

    let me take off the tin foil here. now this is clearly pushing it but if we say that drones are ok then it is possible - nay probable that they will work on something along the lines of my tinhattary.
  • What oversight? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:38PM (#44052521)

    '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.'"

    What oversight? Maybe she is in the inner circle that knows what is going on with the NSA but that is hardly what I would call oversight. A (mostly) secret program with secret directives overseen by a secret court with secret findings is not what I consider adequate oversight. There is no means by which the public will ever be informed of the findings of the surveillance and thus there is no possible way for the public to know if their rights are being compromised or if laws are being broken.

    With regard to restricting the use of drones to protect citizens' privacy, Mueller said, 'It is still in nascent stages but it is worthy of debate and legislation down the road.'

    Meaning the FBI is doing whatever they feel like until someone tells them to cut it out. Apparently the FBI thinks oversight means spying on us from the sky.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:41PM (#44052543)

    Which part of the Constitution do you think prohibits the government from flying in public airspace? Why on earth would they be allowed to do it with manned surveillance vehicles, but not with unmanned ones?

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kannibal_klown (531544) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:42PM (#44052555)

    Why shouldn't they use drones? They use surveillance helicopters. This is just another method of doing the same thing.

    I kind of agree on this.

    I'm not saying I'm all for high-surveillance and I DO acknowledge things are just getting Orwellian every day.

    But that ship has sailed. We're already caught on dozens / hundreds of camera just on our way to work every day: bank, traffic, speeding, surveillance, helicopter, etc.

    So now they want to put more up there... I'm not really against that. So long as they stay "up there" and aren't hovering outside my 2nd-floor window to see what I'm up to in the privacy of my own home. But watching the areas outside? Fine. Heck if they want to see a beached whale sunbathing on a balcony they can pass over my house while I give them the-bird. But for them to see the public spaces, easily get decent high-res bird's-eye views of critical events / crimes / etc? Meh

    Again, that's probably not a popular opinion on slashdot and I'll get modded down. And I realize the old saying about security and freedom... I'm just saying it's just yet-another-camera out there, and cheaper and quicker-to-deploy than a helicopter. Except the keyword "Drone" makes it scary.

    NOW... if they arm the flippin' things (even with non-lethal ordinance) or they say it's cool for them to check out the inside of buildings' windows then it's alllllll over.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tiberus (258517) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:47PM (#44052611)
    That's sorta like saying sending a woodpecker or a Hind to pester someone is just another method of doing the same thing. It's rather easy to detect a helicopter, their big, kinda noisy and have to stay several hundred or more feet off the ground. It's a lot harder to detect a Predator, or one of the even smaller drones and I've never seen a helicopter that can fly into my backyard.
  • by icebike (68054) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:59PM (#44052755)

    True, the 4th Amendment to the Constitution only protects us from against unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires a warrant for most searches. The word "unreasonable" has been slowly leveraged by the courts over the decades to allow all sorts of impromptu searches by Police [nyclu.org].

    But there was no aircraft when the 4th was penned, and had their been, I seems that the practice of using an aircraft for police observation would certainly have been curtailed.

    The use of a manned aircraft to search your property brings with it immediate and obvious notification. Its big and noisy and expensive, the pilot has to pee once in a while meaning it could never be continuous, with or without a warrant.

    But with small, reasonably quiet battery operated drones, you can park it outside someones apartment window, and watch what is going on inside, useing thermal imaging, remote sound recording, and full motion video, and you can do this 24/7 using a couple of devices that cost less than $5000 each. And you can do it without a warrant, because you are not actually entering the premises.

    If your conscious allows you to sneak that sort of activity in as being "not unreasonable" you probably have a career opportunity at a three letter agency.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cfulton (543949) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:59PM (#44052763)
    Why shouldn't we put cameras on every street corner? Then we could catch all the Jaywalkers. Why shouldn't we put a microphone in every confessional? Why shouldn't we put cameras in every room in every home. We would end domestic violence once and for all!!

    We have to put hard limits on the massive interference with citizens private affairs and lives in place now. The we have already started down the slippery slope. Those in power only need to trot out the TERRORIST boogeyman and the SAFETY boogeyman to get the public to allow seemingly any intrusion into their lives. If we don't start fighting back now we will find that we cannot stop them when they start wiring up out homes in the name of stopping domestic violence or whatever boogeyman they use.
  • by Guru80 (1579277) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @03:01PM (#44052793)
    It wasn't very long ago that all this massive spying on U.S. citizens would have caused an outrage and demonstrations of epic proportions....now I see all these "so what? I have nothing to hide" comments or other similar rubbish. It doesn't matter if we have nothing to hide, it's one small (or significant depending on point of view) step at a time to slowly gain your indifference until our kids and grandkids live in a total surveillance state with no expectation or right to privacy in anything they do. That is the ultimate goal, in the name of our safety of course...because obviously somewhere over the last 60 years Americans became completely incapable of not feeling safe if our Government isn't holding onto our hand while we cross the street. It's suppose to be the other way around.
  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Synerg1y (2169962) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @03:04PM (#44052813)

    It's a well known fact that crime is a sign of society's shortfalls. Most people commit crime for a reason, few do it for the thrill (there's some). Now, building drones costs money, wouldn't that money be better spent fixing society's ills. There is no need for the government to watch us. They need to work on making us as great a society as possible and fixing problems (seems we need to watch them though.. drones all around the whitehouse!). These drone would just focus more on catching criminals then fixing whatever drove the person to commit the crime. Everybody should be able to see how this drones to catch criminals approach can quickly spiral out of control.

    Also, LEO's aren't your friend, they'll do anything to get a conviction and advance their career, some are good, but most don't have a working sense of justice. Even google is more of a friend to you.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Em Adespoton (792954) <slashdotonly.1.adespoton@spamgourmet.com> on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @03:09PM (#44052873) Homepage Journal

    Yes, but where does the slippery slope lead to? It's an airborne camera - either you allow them or you don't.

    It's an airborne wide-spectrum camera, sometimes with parabolic and laser microphones.

    People don't tend to have an issue with the helicopters because they're big, noisy, expensive, and take a number of people to operate. Thus, you're only going to deploy them when it's really necessary, and everyone in the area knows it's deployed. Compare that to drones, where you don't know how many there are, where they are, how much information they're gathering, who they're gathering it for, etc.

    We haven't even got to the questions yet of the legality of knocking a drone out of the air -- we know the rules for helicopters.

    Basically, there's a lot of "undefined" areas surrounding how drones integrate with our current society, and as such, there are a lot of potentials for abuse based on those gaps.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @03:30PM (#44053155)

    If it's legal to do the latter, you can't make it illegal to do the former, just because it has more throughput.

    You can and should. The balance of police surveillance is maintained in part by the expense and inefficiency of conducting it.

    If the efficiency of an aspect of law enforcement is greatly improved, that will shift the balance.

    And it is right and appropriate to restore the balance. Not necessarily by prohibiting the new technology, but by imposing stricter limits on when it is used, or by shrinking the surveillance budget so that they can conduct the same level of surveillance they could before, but a fraction of the cost. Or shift the surveillance budget to putting more cops walking the beat.

    Society doesn't necessarily want "more surveillance". And just because the cost has come down isn't a valid reason to increase it. That surveillance has become more efficient is great... now lets do the same level surveillance we did before, and use the money freed up for something else. Lowering taxes. More beat cops. Dusting for fingerprints at break ins. Improving response times for emergencies. There all kinds of things the police are perpetually saying they don't have enough money for... if they can replace 5 helicopters with 5 drones and free up a bunch of money for something ELSE do that. But replacing 5 helicopters with 50 drones is just silly.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by delcielo (217760) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @03:33PM (#44053177) Journal
    We've seen where even helicopters can be abused, using thermal imagery, etc. to see into places where they really have no business seeing. Drones are quickly evolving and will exacerbate such problems. We've seen how the warrant process is bypassed or ignored, now imagine drones small enough to see every space you occupy, and autonomous enough that nobody is even providing oversight into what they're recording or observing until after the fact.

    Helicopters require effort and cost, and so there is some incentive for their operators to dispatch them only when there is a good cause. Small cheap drones won't have even that barrier.
  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @03:33PM (#44053179)

    I would hazard a conjecture:

    The current crop of citizens most interviewed by the media about this issue are in their 20s and 30s.

    About a decade ago, pre september 11, those people would be in their teens and early 20s.

    At that time, a goodly proportion of them would still be active participants in highschool, and coincidentally, this is also the time that the columbine high shootings occured. (1999) Even prior to this, the use of security cameras in hallways, classroorms, and commons areas in US highschools was on the rise. After the event, any question of if this was a good idea was summarily shouted down, amid personal accusations of endangering children.

    It is now 10 years later, and the students subjected to the omnipresent institutionalized observation and invasion of privacy are now desensitized to the issue, and see it as just more of the same. The gravity of the situation is lost, as the cameras are not viewed as the threat to civil liberties that they truely are, but just another banal feature of daily life to be ignored.

    I can't exactly prove this, but the effects of institutionalism on behavior should not be ignored. Just ask the folks at standford.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Applekid (993327) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @03:35PM (#44053193)

    It's a well known fact that crime is a sign of society's shortfalls. Most people commit crime for a reason, few do it for the thrill (there's some). Now, building drones costs money, wouldn't that money be better spent fixing society's ills. There is no need for the government to watch us. They need to work on making us as great a society as possible and fixing problems (seems we need to watch them though.. drones all around the whitehouse!). These drone would just focus more on catching criminals then fixing whatever drove the person to commit the crime. Everybody should be able to see how this drones to catch criminals approach can quickly spiral out of control.

    Also, LEO's aren't your friend, they'll do anything to get a conviction and advance their career, some are good, but most don't have a working sense of justice. Even google is more of a friend to you.

    The goal of the powerful is not to stop crime altogether, it's to stop crime from exceeding certain rates that will interfere with the continual farming of the citizenry. The crime that remains is there to scare them away from voting you out.

    In short, it's a balance between making sure just enough people get murdered for us to say "hey, there are murderers out there, pay me more taxes!" but not so many that the GDP starts going down.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @03:41PM (#44053273)

    Yes, but where does the slippery slope lead to? It's an airborne camera - either you allow them or you don't.

    It's an airborne wide-spectrum camera, sometimes with parabolic and laser microphones.

    People don't tend to have an issue with the helicopters because they're big, noisy, expensive, and take a number of people to operate. Thus, you're only going to deploy them when it's really necessary, and everyone in the area knows it's deployed. Compare that to drones, where you don't know how many there are, where they are, how much information they're gathering, who they're gathering it for, etc.

    We haven't even got to the questions yet of the legality of knocking a drone out of the air -- we know the rules for helicopters.

    Basically, there's a lot of "undefined" areas surrounding how drones integrate with our current society, and as such, there are a lot of potentials for abuse based on those gaps.

    Exactly -- it's the same argument against warrantless tracking of cell phones. Some would say "Well tracking your cell phone is no different than sending a team of agents out to track you all day", which is true if you ignore the cost and inconvenience of sending teams of agents to track millions of people. It's the same thing with drones - the government is going to very judiciously use a 5 million dollar helicopter to spy on someone, and we'd all notice if they were sending thousands of them to track thousands of people. But when they can use a $50,000 (or $5000 or $500) drone, then the barrier to entry is much lower, so they may track many more people with much less justification.

    And it becomes easier to target people based on politics or other non-criminal reasons. It'd be hard for the mayor to call up the chief of police and say "Hey, I'm going to face some real competition in the next election, can you have one of your boys track my opponent and see if you can dig up some dirt", there's a lot of people and paperwork involved in allocating a week of helicopter time. But when the city has several dozen drone units and surveillance is common place, then the chief can call his buddy in the drone unit and say "Hey, I'll give you a case of beer if you can watch this guy for a week".

  • by bonehead (6382) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @04:14PM (#44053623)

    Not nearly enough young people have read 1984.

    We are now just an Xbox One and a subpoena (or FISA order) away from living in that wold.

  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nabsltd (1313397) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @04:21PM (#44053693)

    what happens when they can develop swarming nanobot flying insects with cameras and microphones on them that dont need to charge and are attracted to noise. always swarming above peoples heads and fully autonomous.

    It's real simple regardless of the technology. If they have a warrant issued by a real judge for that one specific purpose (which means probable cause for a specific crime), even long-term surveillance that violates privacy is OK. You may not like this, but that's the way it has been for many decades.

    On the other hand, no warrant, no privacy-violating surveillance. They can still watch/listen to you when you are in public, but they can't legally listen to your phone calls, listen to conversations inside your house that are not loud enough to be heard without augmentation, etc. What this means is that they can't fly a drone over your house in the middle of your 40 acres of land to watch or listen to you unless they have a warrant. I'd even argue that a drone looking into your fenced backyard that can't otherwise be seen from public property would require a warrant.

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