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FBI director says surveillance drones used in US
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 19, 2013

Database of private security cameras could help in crime investigation
Baltimore (UPI) Jun 19, 2013 - The U.S. arm of a Russian software firm says it's created a database to help Baltimore police track down private surveillance video that may help solve crimes.

"We've almost completed development of a database application for the IT department of the city of Baltimore, which allows companies to voluntarily register data about security cameras they already own and operate," Bill Conforti of EastBanc Technologies' Washington office told RIA Novosti Wednesday.

"So if there's a crime, the police department can contact the owners of cameras who have registered in the location where the crime was committed" to request access to their video footage for help in solving the crime, Conforti said.

The database, which would strengthen Baltimore's CitiWatch program of 580 city-operated video cameras, would speed up crime investigations because police "would know which companies' footage they could request -- they would not have to wait for the companies to come forward," he said.

The database being developed by EBT, based in the southwestern Siberian city of Novosibirsk, is not an active surveillance program, he stressed, because police would only view footage from private cameras registered on the database if they receive a report of a crime in the neighborhood.

The database is nearly ready to be rolled out, he said, but the actual date would be determined by city officials.

Unmanned drones are roaming American skies conducting surveillance on people in the United States, albeit in a "very minimal way," the head of the FBI revealed to Congress on Wednesday.

Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller said his agency's use of a small number of aerial drones is relatively new, and that the bureau has only begun to draw up policy and operational guidelines for the devices.

"I will tell you that our footprint is very small," Mueller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"We have very few (drones) and of limited use, and we're exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use."

Mueller said the drones conduct surveillance, but that they were "seldom" used.

Other agencies are known to be using the high-technology gadgets, including the Department of Homeland Security, which uses drones to patrol the US border with Mexico.

Senator Chuck Grassley said Attorney General Eric Holder indicated to him in writing that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives "had purchased drones and were exploring their use in law enforcement."

"I think the right of privacy is at stake. If there's a legitimate law enforcement reason for using it, they ought to say," Grassley told CNN after the hearing.

He said a simmering distrust of government is fueling suspicion about domestic spying, including recently revealed surveillance programs that gather phone logs and Internet data.

"Because of that mistrust, we've got to nail these things down. The people have a right to know."

In March Republican Senator Rand Paul blocked legislative action for nearly 13 hours on the Senate floor to protest the Obama administration's refusal to unequivocally rule out drone strikes on US soil.

Days later Holder wrote to Paul clarifying that a US president does not have the power to order a drone strike against a "non combatant" American inside the United States.

Paul expressed concern about the drone surveillance, saying it should not be used without a court-issued search warrant.

"My guess is they don't have warrants for these things, they're just flying around. That, I'm opposed to," he told AFP.

Mueller did not say whether warrants were being obtained for the use of the drones.

Paul said Americans could grow fearful of drones that are small enough to land on a house window or fly indoors.

"I think there's one that weighs less than an ounce," Paul said.

Democrats have expressed concern as well. Senator Dianne Feinstein said she believed that "the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone... and the very few regulations that are on it today."

Mueller agreed that there should be public discourse over the future of the unmanned vehicles, saying "it's worthy of debate and perhaps legislation down the road."

Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open up airspace to unmanned aircraft by October 2015.


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