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How drones are used for domestic surveillance

FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that unmanned aircraft is used minimally in domestic surveillance to monitor unmoving objects and save law enforcement officers from serious risks. Senators expressed concerns about the secrecy of the program and possible threats to privacy. 

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This undated handout image shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. The U.S. uses drones to conduct domestic surveillance, according to testimony given by FBI Director Robert Mueller to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Lt Col Leslie Pratt/Handout

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The United States uses drones for surveillance in some limited law enforcement situations, FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Wednesday, sparking additional debate about President Barack Obama's use of domestic surveillance.

The acknowledgement came in response to questions from U.S. senators who said they wanted to know more about the federal government's increasing use of unmanned aircraft.

"Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on U.S. soil?" Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa asked during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

"Yes," Mueller said, adding that the use was in "a very, very minimal way and very seldom."

Mueller did not go into detail, but the FBI later released a statement that said unmanned aircraft were used only to watch stationary subjects and to avoid serious risks to law enforcement agents. The Federal Aviation Administration approves each use, the statement said.

The FBI used a drone during a hostage-taking in Alabama this year after a gunman, Jimmy Lee Dykes, snatched a boy off a school bus and held him in an underground bunker, according to the statement.

The U.S. government has made no secret of its use of drones to monitor the United States border with Mexico.

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