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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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  • by sgt_doom (655561) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:26PM (#44052371)
    ....they have been unable to locate his body with all those drones they've been using.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-06-19/drones-are-used-domestic-surveillance-fbi-director-admits [zerohedge.com]
  • 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.
    • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Applekid (993327) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:29PM (#44052415)

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

      Because we all would like to think "slippery slope" is a logical fallacy and not a human certainty.

      • by Yakasha (42321)

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

        Because we all would like to think "slippery slope" is a logical fallacy and not a human certainty.

        Slipper slopes apply to policy, not technology.

        It doesn't matter if they revive the psychic studies and develop clairvoyant super spies as long as they get a warrant before peeking at US citizens.

        • by bonehead (6382)

          as long as they get a warrant before peeking at US citizens.

          The reality is that they do plenty of peeking with or without a warrant. They only bother with the warrant when they're going to need to be able to admit the evidence in court.

    • 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 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 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.
      • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Applekid (993327)

          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.

          • by Gription (1006467)
            Wow! This level of paranoia usually requires medication.

            There is no shadowy conspiracy where "they" are trying to get you by insuring that there is enough crime. Government is about control combined with the incompetence of the random action that comes from thousands of legs trying to haul the beast in every direction.
        • Are you really suggesting that we shouldn't spend any effort on catching criminals?
      • 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.

        Yeah, for you and the rest of us...

      • Don't be stupid. It is only a matter of time before they are armed and used to eliminate targets. Go boil a frog dumbass.

    • 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.
    • Ah the old "effective loss of privacy due to advances in technology and lower costs is acceptable" mindset...

      I've tried the "old way analogy" on this and it hasn't worked so far. Police cars following every car, and a police lookout nest on every lamppost are analogous situations that have been deemed acceptable before by those who hold this mindset. I don't supposed police helicopters swarming all over the place all the time would bother you either?

    • by ArhcAngel (247594)
      Perhaps because the helicopters are manned and the drones aren't. [wikipedia.org] Sure you can argue someone is piloting the drone but your accuser still wasn't present when you did whatever it was you are accused of doing was did.
    • 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.
      • I imagine the drones being programmed to detect and inventory personal gardens or food production facilities. The government seems awful interested in or paranoid of unknown/un-tracked food production. This aspect of government intervention isn't really noticed by people until you live in agricultural areas where it is not uncommon to get harassed by the USDA--especially if you have acreage.

      • This is not an argument to ban drones. This is an argument to lower the surveillance budget of law enforcement as technology makes surveillance cheaper.

        it is just wasteful to force law enforcement to spend more money on obsolete technologies as a way of restricting their reach. We may as well force them to only use computers made before 1970 so they can only do so many database searches per day.

    • Air traffic safety rules is one obvious example of "why"
    • by jxander (2605655)

      Size : Helicopters (or any other manned aircraft) are big... at least big enough for a person to sit in, plus room for things like engines and cameras and whatnot. Gives any random citizen a good chance of seeing the thing, and knowing that he/she is being helicopter surveilled.

      Scope : You've gotta have at least one pilot per surveillance helicopter. Two or three pilots of you want round-the-clock surveillance. That puts some serious diminishing returns into trying to record more than just a handful of

    • by stenvar (2789879)

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

      Sure, if we impose the same visibility requirements and an enforceable limit on the total number of drones in existence. If we don't, they aren't "doing the same thing", because the way prices are coming down, it won't be long until each of us can have their own personal surveillance drone following them everywhere.

      • We as a society can decide how much surveillance we want and whether we want the ability (and the criminals to have the ability) of knowing when they are being watched. Once we decide this, we can decide what rules need to be in place to make sure law enforcement does not overreach. This is true of improving and drone technology as well as improving helicopter technology.

        The rules we set for law enforcement shouldn't be tied to a specific technology (e.g. helicopters are ok and drones are not), Helicopter

  • ...in crowbar manufacturing.

  • I thought there seemed to be a large rise in RC Model clubs around here suddenly.

  • 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

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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?

      • 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.

        • There were no drones when the 4th amendment was created, but there were fences, hills, ladders, windows, curtains and telescopes. I don't think drones constitute a paradigm shift resulting in the complete obsolescence of the 4th amendment.

          Airplanes did come a little bit later, but they have been around for over 100 years now. Spy planes have been around for nearly as long.

          A drone has no added ability to see into your house. Yes it can see into your backyard, but so can someone with a ladder. Yes a drone

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        The part against unreasonable search and seizure. Your neighbor may fly above your home and take pictures, the government is not allowed to. See, according to our Constitution, the government should have fewer rights than citizens. In fact, the federal government should only have those rights enumerated and specifically granted to it, and I'm pretty sure that flying over my backyard and taking pictures isn't among those.

    • by stenvar (2789879)

      And a little later that's followed by "that's old news and there is no need to talk about it anymore".

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ooooh, lookit the scary drooooone! For fuck's sake, people, we do not have to buy into hysterical rebranding of bog-standard technologies. It's a fucking camera on a fucking light aircraft. ZOMFG, the FBI is using CAMERAS! ZOMFG, they are putting the scaaary cameras on LIGHT AIRCRAFT! Are you scared yet??? Cameras! On aircraft! I bet nobody ever fucking thought of putting a camera on an aircraft before. This changes everything!
  • Think about it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:34PM (#44052481) Journal

    If the FBI had drones in 1992, they would have launched a hellfire missile and killed the entire Weaver family. And it would have been blamed on a gas leak and covered up.
    If the FBI had drones in 1993, they would have launched a hellfire missile at the Branch Davidians and killed all of them. The FBI would have blamed the Branch Davidians and said they committed mass suicide.

    We would have never known the truth.

    • The FBI still doesn't have hellfire missiles, they have RC airplanes with cameras on them.

      Conflating "drone" with "weaponized military drone" is like conflating "car" with "Abrams tank".

  • 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!

    • by simonbp (412489)

      And how is this any different from the FBI using aeroplanes or helicopters or cars?

      For all the armwaving and hysteria about drones, they aren't a fundimentally new technology and are not without copious legal precident.

      • aeroplanes, helicopters, cars, *and* Drones

        you see the difference? There are now *more* ways to snoop on people then before. That means more oportunities to gather data from a different viewpoint.

        In other words, the problem is now worse.

        Please tell me you understand

        • by Maudib (223520)

          As long as they get a warrant from an actual court, then thats fine.

          We can't be ludites and tell cops or the FBI not to use technology, that will just result in them regulating technology. What we need to do is force them to follow the damn constitution and get a warrant to use any of these things.

        • Except that drones *are* aeroplanes and helicopters.

          According to your logic we should also ban the use of red helicopters. Because if we allow them then the government will be able to use aeroplanes, helicopters, cars, *and* red helicopters.

      • And how is this any different from the FBI using aeroplanes or helicopters [...]

        Expense. Airplanes and helicopters have to be heavy and powerful enough to transport people. Therefore, the initial expense, fuel, and maintenance costs will always be higher, placing a greater practical limitation on how much surveillance one can conduct. This causes a law enforcement agency to have to prioritize its surveillance, acting as a natural check against an all-seeing, all-intrusive security-state and requiring that

        • So rather than legally limiting the amount of allowable surveillance you would rather depend on the expense of helicopters to deter law enforcement from overreaching?

          What if some new material allows helicopters to be made lighter, quieter and more cheaply. Now the FBI can do exactly what we all feared as long as they make sure a person is physically sitting in the helicopter.

          Relying on things to remain expensive as a check on government is probably not a bet we should be making as a society. Look at how w

    • by http (589131)
      In case you haven't noticed, the USA has already turned very nasty.
    • The "freedom loving" crowd will only be outraged if there are gun grabbing hooks attached to the drones.

  • 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 turp182 (1020263)

      What she meant to say was that they are subject to sufficient SECRET legal oversight.

      The plebes don't care anyway, they are watching TV.

  • by Intropy (2009018) on Wednesday June 19, 2013 @02:39PM (#44052525)

    See, this drone thing doesn't really bother me. When I'm out and about I expect my actions to be public. If a drone is monitoring a private residence or business or following someone to one I think a warrant ought to be required (subject to the normal hot pursuit exceptions). But if you're monitoring some public area, no big deal. The internet and telephone surveillance on the other hand is a complete invasion of an area where I expect privacy and am guaranteed it by the constitution.

    • If a drone is monitoring a private residence or business or following someone to one I think a warrant ought to be required (subject to the normal hot pursuit exceptions). But if you're monitoring some public area, no big deal.

      Public areas are bounded by businesses and private residences, so I don't really see the distinction. Drone sees all. Might come into play if you own a lot of acres, but a court ruled that cops can even install cameras on larger land holdings without a warrant. Strange how privacy was supposed to be a restriction on the government, but it ended being a restriction on us.

      Anyway, this is a relief, I've been following you around for the past 6 months, and was starting to feel guilty, but now I know it's OK..

    • You expect no privacy when you leave your house but expect it when your voice or date leave your house? I guess then citizen you wouldn't mind having a microphone or a camera attached to you when you leave your house.

  • Any other definition will become blurred into total surveillance. Some guy on the most wanted list for 10 years could be used as an excuse for a drone hovering over your town 24/7.

  • 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.
    • 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.

      • I think it's the other way around. Ms. Feinstein's generation does not understand computers and algorithms. They think the NSA spying (excuse me, "snooping") is fine because "no one is listening to your call." They do not understand that no one needs to listen to your call. The algorithms, the data mining, the constant churning correlating and profiling is what's petrifying, not the fact that somebody might listen to me order a pizza.

        • by wierd_w (1375923)

          Honestly, it is probably both, coupled to the incompetent person's inability to recognize competence.

          Much like with the ipad school webcam spying scandal, where school administrators deemed themselves sufficient oversight against abusive use of the technology, (when they clearly weren't, when they suspending the kid for eating mike and ikes) we have a government repesentative who feels that the federal review processes they have created behind walls of secrecy and confidentiality are sufficient oversight ag

    • 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.

  • but whos laughing now, WalMart? that 10-for-$10 sale on tin-foil was a fools dozen....like taking candy from a baby.
  • Well, not really. I am just in the procrastination stages right now. I am going to discover a new, inexpensive, roofing material that will scatter lidar, radar, infrared, thermal, microwave, and Wi-Fi Giving any home a passive cloaking device. We are looking into umbrellas as well.

    Who want to fund my Kickstarter?

  • Shouldn't members of the Senate and Congress be first to submit to phone/email surveillance and drone coverage?

    After all they are very important people and they need to be kept safe from the terrorists. And I'm sure they have nothing illegal to hide.

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