On Wednesday, the same day that President Obama pledged in Berlin to use drones with the utmost caution and restraint, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress that the Bureau has been using surveillance drones in the United States in "particular" and rare cases.
In an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller says the Bureau is developing guidelines for drones, but could not answers questions about what safeguards are in place for the program.
"Our footprint is very small. We have very few," Mueller said in response to a question by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Mueller clearly stated that the FBI uses drones for surveillance on U.S. soil, but in a "very, very minimal way, and seldom."
While 58% of Americans support "intelligence-gathering programs" by the NSA, largely due to an understanding of the lack of internet privacy and the security at stake, Americans may be more hesitant to support the spread of drone surveillance into domestic law enforcement.
The use of surveillance drones, however, is already well entrenched in federal agencies. In February, the FBI used a drone to monitor a kidnapping scene in Alabama where a five-year-old boy was rescued. In addition, drones are use to survey the U.S. border, fight wildfires, and are used by surveillance by local law enforcement as well.
When speaking at the National Defense University in May, President Obama made it clear that no president should deploy armed drones over U.S. soil. As the practice of deploying surveillance drones becomes more common, Congress must act to ensure that these drones be used only for surveillance, and in a transparent way that allows for public scrutiny.