Good news from FBI chief: We’re using drones for surveillance inside the U.S., but only a little
posted at 3:21 pm on June 19, 2013 by Allahpundit
Rand Paul’s speechwriters must be sleeping maybe three hours a night these days.
Federal agencies have been using drones for years to monitor the northern and southern borders of the U.S., and those drones have occasionally been deployed to help domestic law-enforcement agencies like the FBI…
FBI hostage negotiators used surveillance drones during a standoff earlier this year with an Alabama man who had taken a boy hostage inside a makeshift underground bunker…
“It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability,’’ said Mr. Mueller, who said he wasn’t sure what becomes of the images recorded by such drones. “It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs.’’
Our readers know I’m skeptical that the Snowden revelations will move the needle of public opinion much away from surveillance and towards privacy. If you ask the public whether they’re concerned about government intrusions, they’ll say yes, but how many votes turn on that? What are the real-world repercussions for 47 senators skipping a national-security briefing on surveillance measures so that they can get home early for the weekend? Everyone’s supposedly worried about privacy the same way everyone supposedly has a sense of humor. Watch what they do (or don’t do), not what they say. The wrinkle in my skepticism is that there may be a point at which the cumulative effect of various different forms of surveillance — Internet, phone records, drones, CCTV in cities, and so on — begins to hatch a backlash. Scooping up more and more of American’s digital trail in one realm might be tolerated, but the pressure exerted from being surveilled on all sides might build a real constituency for Paul-like politicians whose core platform includes rolling back some of these measures. Paul’s own candidacy in 2016 could be a temperature check on that, but it depends on how aggressive he is in making it a central part of his campaign. His strategy until now has been to triangulate between libertarians and mainstream conservatives who are more equivocal about the liberty/security trade-off. If he goes hard against the NSA, does he end up spooking the righties who worry that he’s a bit too much like his dad to be trusted on national defense? I don’t know. I’d prefer a real choice in 2016 so I’d rather he lay his cards on the table. But if he thinks that’s a sure loser, why would he do that?
Note, by the way, the boldface part in which Mueller emphasizes that the FBI uses drones only in particular cases. That’s also been O’s defense in how the NSA operates: The feds collect mountains of electronic communications data from Americans, but only when they have a particular suspicion do they zero in on someone and ask for a FISA warrant to explore his/her particular communications in detail. The analog in terms of video surveillance, which is probably closer than we think to being feasible (isn’t it always?), is near-comprehensive coverage of the United States via CCTV cameras, drone cameras, etc, with the feds permitted to access particular footage of a given area at a given time only if they obtain a FISA warrant. Whether they’re following their own rules in not abusing the footage or using it more broadly than thought will be unknown to the public because, as we’re reminded so often lately, national security would be compromised if we knew exactly what’s going on. And the feds will, of course, catch some bad guys this way; note the virtuous use of drone surveillance in the excerpt above. When the technology is available and the public understands it has some beneficial ends, it’ll be very hard to stop it.