The FBI is known to have flown unmanned aerial vehicles since at least 2005 and, like any other federal agency, it’s supposed to conduct a privacy impact assessment prior to such activity. But, according to Muckrock, the Bureau can’t track them down, and nor can the Justice Department office that’s supposed to collate them.
An investigation by Muckrock has been hurling FOIA requests at both the FBI and the DOJ. We know the FBI flies drones, but each request for the corresponding privacy impact assessments comes back empty. Each of the assessments — that are legally required to be produced by the FBI — should, at least, include details about what information is being collected, why, how it will be used, and who’ll be able to use it. They’re designed to be fit for public consumption.
After refusing to provide Muckrock with these assessments last year, FOIA requests have also failed to procure the documents. Muckrock claims that the Justice Department has confirmed that it has been unable to find — at the FBI or in its own offices — the documents after “an adequate, reasonable search for such records.” What counts as adequate, reasonable search isn’t explained.
We perhaps shouldn’t be surprised. In Washington DC, the FBI is being sued over failure to publish other privacy impact assessments.
The Privacy Impact Assessment process is, according to Department of Justice guidelines, supposed to be”built into the system from the start — not after the fact”, to “promote trust between the public and the Department by increasing transparency of the Department’s systems and missions.” Clearly, that isn’t quite the case at the moment. [Muckrock]