Speaking at a Senate hearing Wednesday about telephone data collection, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the bureau uses drones to aid its investigations in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom.”

Exactly what kind of information is collected was not detailed in an article by The Guardian.

When asked by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller said that a set of policies intended to govern the use of drones with an eye to civilian privacy was in development.

“We are in the initial stages of doing that,” Mueller said, emphasizing that the FBI drone program was far from being fully developed. “I will tell you that our footprint is very small. We have very few of limited use, and we’re exploring not only the use, but the necessary guidelines for that use.”

That sounds good. But how many Americans are willing to credit anything the defense and intelligence establishment says on the face of it after revelations in recent weeks that the National Security Agency has been engaged in virtually unlimited wiretapping of all private digital communications? Furthermore, Mueller’s assurance that the FBI’s drone program is “very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs” runs counter to the trend in the security community toward dragnet information collection.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who in addition to serving on the Judiciary panel chairs the Intelligence Committee, said the issue of drones worries her far more than telephone and Internet surveillance, which she says are legal and subject to sufficient oversight.

“I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone, and the use of the drone and the very few regulations that are on it today, and the booming industry of commercial drones,” The Huffington Post reports Feinstein as having said Wednesday.

It is publicly known that drones have been used by border control officials and by some local law enforcement agencies. The FBI director said he wasn’t sure whether there were official agreements to share information between the bureau and other agencies.

“To the extent that it relates to the airspace there would be some communication back and forth [between agencies],” Mueller said.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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