Foreign Policy Blogs

DOJ on Drones: “Let’s Talk”


Photo Credit: Gerald Nino

The Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice has released his year-end review, “Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Justice.” Up there on the list of “challenges” facing the DOJ? Domestic use of drones, particularly by law enforcement.

IG Michael Horowitz emphasizes that while unmanned systems will undoubtably prove to be hugely beneficial to law enforcement — particularly from a surveillance perspective — we still need to grapple with the civil liberties questions such systems raise. Additionally,

[In a] recent OIG review of the Department’s domestic use of [drones] … FBI and ATF officials stated that they did not believe there was any practical difference between how UAS and manned aircraft collect evidence through aerial surveillance.  However, we found that the technological capabilities of drones – such as their ability to fly for extended periods of time and maneuver effectively yet covertly around residences – and the current, uncoordinated approach of Department components to using UAS may merit the Department developing consistent UAS policies to guide the proper use of UAS.

In other words, what makes drones so appealing to law enforcement, lawmakers (the Onion, naturally, nails this one) and intelligence officials both at home and abroad are precisely the same issues that sound alarms with privacy and human rights advocates. Indeed, in any conversation about the use of drones abroad, it’s important to recall that drones aren’t just transforming how we navigate conflicts in countries thousands of miles away, but that they’re having, or going to have, a very real effect here on U.S. soil.



Hannah Gais

Hannah is assistant editor at the Foreign Policy Association, a nonresident fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and the managing editor of Her work has appeared in a number of national and international publications, including Al Jazeera America, U.S. News and World Report, First Things, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, Truthout, Business Insider and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gais is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, where she focused on Eastern Christian Theology and European Studies. You can follow her on Twitter @hannahgais