The FBI has admitted it sometimes uses aerial surveillance drones over US soil, and suggested further political debate and legislation to govern their domestic use may be necessary.

Speaking in a hearing mainly about telephone data collection, the bureau’s director, Robert Mueller, said it used drones to aid its investigations in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom”.

However, the potential for growing drone use either in the U.S., or involving U.S. citizens abroad, is an increasingly charged issue in Congress, and the FBI acknowledged there may need to be legal restrictions placed on their use to protect privacy.

“It is still in nascent stages but it is worthy of debate and legislation down the road”, said Mr. Mueller, in response to questions from Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono.

Mr. Hirono said, “I think this is a burgeoning concern for many of us.” 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.

“Our footprint is very small”, Mr. Mueller told the Senate judiciary committee. “We have very few and have limited use.” He said the FBI was in “the initial stages” of developing privacy guidelines to balance security threats with civil liberty concerns.

It is known that drones are used by border control officials and have been used by some local law enforcement authorities and Department of Homeland Security in criminal cases.

Mr. Mueller said he wasn’t sure if there were official agreements with these other agencies.

“To the extent that it relates to the air space there would be some communication back and forth (between agencies)”, Mr. Mueller said.

© Guardian News Service

More In: World | International | News