A Freedom of Information Act request for a 2015 report conducted by the inspector general for the Pentagon confirmed a conspiracy theorist’s worst fears: The government has been spying on American citizens with drones.
The report, which was finished March 20, 2015, but only made public just recently via the FOIA request, said the Pentagon has sent drones on spy missions for non-military reasons over America fewer than 20 times between 2006 and 2015, USA Today reported. The IG also concluded the operations were always conducted in compliance with laws that were in effect at the time.
But a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, Jay Stanley, said the findings show it may be time to change the law.
“Sometimes,” he said, USA Today reported, “new technology changes so rapidly that existing laws no longer fit what people think are appropriate. It’s important to remember that the American people do find this to be a very, very sensitive topic.”
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The report didn’t detail what the Pentagon spy operations entailed.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller testified in 2013 to Congress that his law-enforcement agents sometimes used spy drones to help with investigations, but “in a very, very minimal way, very seldom,” he said then.
The FOIA request for all cases involving the military’s tasking of drones over America covered the period between 2006 and 2015. And their common denominator was that civilian law enforcement agencies actually initiated the requests for spy drones, USA Today reported. Not all the requests were granted; the 20 or so events the IG referred to in the report covered both granted and denied requests.
One example of when a spy drone was used involved a request from an unnamed mayor to the Marine Corps to help find potholes in the city, USA Today reported.
The inspector general reported the Marines denied that request because, according to policies back then, they would have had to obtain the defense secretary’s approval for the drones, and a “mission of this type did not make operational sense.”
It was a year ago the Pentagon put out a policy requiring the defense secretary to approve the use of spy drones for all U.S. operations. The existing policy now states: Drones may not be used to “conduct surveillance on U.S. persons” without the prior knowledge of and permission of both existing law and the defense secretary.
Drones fitted with weaponry are banned from flying over the United States.