Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wants more answers on how the FBI uses drones and he is willing to stall the nomination process of James Comey, the president's pick for FBI director, if he doesn't get the answers he wants.
The senator sent two letters on June 20 and July 9 to FBI Director Robert Mueller demanding answers in how the agency deployed the unmanned aircraft and under what circumstances the government violates privacy. Paul finally got two letters back, one classified and one declassified, but Paul says they are "insufficient."
In the declassified letter, the FBI explained that they only seek a warrant to use a drone in instances when an individual has "reasonable expectation of privacy." Otherwise, the agency says that they used an internal approval process. "Without a warrant, the FBI will not use UAVs to acquire information in which individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy."
"The FBI uses UAVs in very limited circumstances to conduct surveillance where there is a specific, operational need. UAVs have been used for surveillance to support missions related to kidnappings, search and rescue operations, drug interdictions, and fugitive investigations," Mueller wrote in a letter to Paul.
The FBI says that to date, they have used the domestic drones 10 times since 2006, but they have never needed to obtain a warrant because they have not used drones to do surveillance on anyone who had such an expectation of privacy. The most high-profile use of a domestic drone was earlier this year when the FBI used the aircraft to find a child who had been kidnapped in Alabama and held underground with his captor. What Paul worries about is that the FBI's definition of "reasonable expectation of privacy" might be a little broad.
"It is important that you clarify your interpretation of when an individual is assumed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy. I am concerned that an overbroad interpretation of this protection would enable more substantial information collection on an individual in a circumstance they might not have believed was subject to surveillance."
Paul's threat to continuing holding the nomination isn't undemonstrated. In May, Paul filibustered the nomination of CIA director John Brennan for 12 hours to get answers from the agency on whether they could kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.
But Paul's threat comes just after the Senate negotiated a delicate agreement to proceed on a series of seven nominations. While Comey's was not among those that were agreed upon, holding up the nomination too long could bring the senate to the brink once against and leave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to once against threaten the so-called nuclear option, a procedural maneuver to change the Senate rules.