The Federal Bureau of Investigations told Sen. Rand Paul in a recent unclassified letter that agents have flown drones over U.S. airspace a total of 10 times in the past seven years.
Mr. Paul received two letters — one classified and one unclassified — from the FBI. He released the unclassified letter Thursday on his website along with his response to it. The letter was a response to questions the senator first posed to FBI Director Robert Mueller in June and then again in early July.
The letter from the FBI’s director of legislative affairs, Stephen Kelly, was dated July 19.
It said, in part: “The FBI uses UAVs in very limited circumstances to conduct surveillance when there is a specific, operational need. UAVs have been used for surveillance to support missions related to kidnappings, search and rescue operations, drug interdictions and fugitive investigations. Since late 2006, the FBI has conducted surveillance using UAVs in eight criminal cases and two national security cases.”
For example, the FBI said it used drone surveillance earlier this year to help rescue a 5-year-old boy being held in a bunker by Jimmy Lee Dykes.
The FBI also said it doesn’t use armed drones on U.S. soil.
“None of the UAVs used by the FBI are armed with either lethal or non-lethal weapons, and the FBI has no plans to use weapons with UAVs,” the letter stated.
Mr. Paul had one followup question, in a response letter dated July 25:
“The FBI’s unclassified response letter maintained that the Bureau would acquire a warrant before using a drone to acquire information when an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. While I agree that warrants should be used to approve information collection — including information collected through drone surveillance — this protection could be undercut by the Bureau’s interpretation of what constitutes a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy,’ ” he said, in his letter posted on his website.
So Mr. Paul’s question: What is the FBI definition of an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy?
He asked for copies of documents at the agency that could shed light on the issue, including field manuals, legal notes and training materials.