The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) [official website] on Thursday released an interim report [text, PDF] on the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) [official websites, text, PDF]. The report details that currently the FBI [official website] is the only DOJ component to have used UAS to support its mission. However, other DOJ components, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) [official website], plan to deploy UAS to support future operations. The DOJ justified its use of UAS because of the lack of practical difference between regular aerial surveillance and manned aircraft. The OIG report found, however, that the differences between the two systems raise privacy concerns due to the nature of UAS, which can be used in close proximity to a home and may be capable of flying for days at a time. The report calls on the DOJ to consider the need for a department-wide policy regarding UAS uses that could have significant privacy or other legal implications. The findings reveal that the FBI has has spent more than $3 million since the use of UAS beginning in 2006.
The growing use of unmanned aerial surveillance and combat capable aircraft, otherwise known as drones, has drawn the attention of the world and become a controversial topic [JURIST backgrounder]. In the US, drones operated by domestic agencies are conducting surveillance for border protection and crime prevention. In June the FBI confirmed [text, PDF] that it has used drones domestically 10 times. In March legal experts testified [JURIST report] before the Senate regarding the growing need for privacy laws because of the rapid advance of drone technology and its increased use. The use of drones for targeted killings has raised international concern, though the community has yet to come to a consensus [JURIST report] on the use of the technology for combating terrorism and other national security threats. Legal experts have advocated [JURIST op-ed] for some form of judicial review in response to the US executive branch's practice of using drones to engage in the targeted killing of suspected terrorists.