Holder: ATF ‘In Process’ Of Planning, Using Domestic Drones

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Attorney General Eric Holder stated on Tuesday that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives is currently exploring options for the use of domestic drones. (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Attorney General Eric Holder stated on Tuesday that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives is currently exploring options for the use of domestic drones. (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Attorney General Eric Holder stated on Tuesday that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives is currently exploring options for the use of domestic drones.

Responding to a question regarding citizens’ right of privacy and FAA control of drones, Holder didn’t directly answer Rep. Ted Poe’s, R-Texas, query, but he did reveal a separate potential use of the unmanned aircraft vehicles within the U.S. Justice Department – the ATF.

“Would you think that it would be better that Congress intervene and employ legislation safeguarding the Fourth Amendment, right of privacy basically on citizens, or do you suggest as Attorney General that the FAA still control who gets a drone or not?” Poe asked at Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.

“Within the department, the only component that uses these vehicles at this point is the FBI,” Holder explained. “The ATF is in the process of working through to see if they want to make use of them.”

The Justice Department has spent $4.9 million on its drone and unmanned aircraft programs since 2004, with the FBI accounting for more than 80 percent of those purchases, Reuters reports.

In September 2013, the department’s watchdog, headed by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, issued a report urging the Justice Department to develop privacy guidelines in the face of mounting privacy concerns.

“The Inspector General has recommended that we come up with some department-wide policies about how these vehicles are used, and I think that would be an appropriate thing to do and we are in the process of trying to work through what rules and regulations would handle the use of these kinds of vehicles,” Holder stated at Tuesday’s House hearing.

The September Inspector General report on drones showed that the ATF had plans to pursue unmanned aircraft usage, and that the agency had already spent almost $600,000 by fall 2013.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress in June that the federal bureau occasionally uses unmanned aerial vehicles, but guidelines would be developed sometime in the future “as they become more omnipresent.”

– Benjamin Fearnow

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