This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally released its first round of records in response to EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for information on the agency's drone authorization program. The agency says the two lists it released include the names of all public and private entities that have applied for authorizations to fly drones domestically. These lists—which include the Certificates of Authorizations (COAs), issued to public entities like police departments, and the Special Airworthiness Certificates (SACs), issued to private drone manufacturers—show for the first time who is authorized to fly drones in the United States.
Some of the entities on the COA list are unsurprising. For example, journalists have reported that Customs and Border Protection uses Predator drones to patrol the borders. It is also well known that DARPA and other branches of the military are authorized to fly drones in the US. However, this is the first time we have seen the broad and varied list of other authorized organizations, including universities, police departments, and small towns and counties across the United States. The COA list includes universities and colleges like Cornell, the University of Colorado, Georgia Tech, and Eastern Gateway Community College, as well as police departments in North Little Rock, Arkansas; Arlington, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Gadsden, Alabama; and Ogden, Utah, to name just a few. The COA list also includes small cities and counties like Otter Tail, Minnesota and Herington, Kansas. The Google map linked above plots out the locations we were able to determine from the lists, and is color coded by whether the authorizations are active, expired or disapproved.https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/04/faa-releases-its-list-drone-certificates-leaves-many-questions-unanswered
Miami-Dade PD releases information about its drone program.
The COA and the other records EFF received show that Miami-Dade’s drone program is quite limited in scope. The two small drones the MDPD is flying—Honeywell T-Hawks—are able to fly up to 10,000 feet high, can record video or still images in daylight or infrared, and can “Hover and stare; [and] follow and zoom,” (pdf) according to the manufacturer. However, the COA limits their use to flights below 300 feet. The drones also must remain within visual line of sight of both a pilot and an observer and can only be flown during the day. They cannot be flown within the Miami city limits or over any high-rise buildings, populated beaches, outdoor assemblies of people, or heavily trafficked roadways (which seems to severely limit their range). Also, the MDPD has stated it doesn’t use the drones to record incidents or store image files and that the drone is set up to “clear the picture upon the next picture being captured.” (It is not clear from MDPD’s records whether the department has another system set up to retain the image files.)
Drone use takes off on the home front.
With little public attention, dozens of universities and law-enforcement agencies have been given approval by federal aviation regulators to use unmanned aircraft known as drones, according to documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by an advocacy group.
Bi-Partisan privacy caucus demands answers on drones and privacy.
Congressman Markey (D-Mass) and Congressman Barton (R-TX) sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), raising concerns about the increased use of drones in the United States. The Congressmen noted, "there is...potential for drone technology to enable invasive and pervasive surveillance without adequate privacy protections." The letter called on the FAA's Acting Administrator to supply key information about the drone program, including plans to ensure that the drone licensing process includes privacy protections and public transparency. In February, EPIC, joined by a coalition of more than 100 organizations, experts, and members of the public, petitioned the FAA to conduct a rulemaking on the privacy implications of domestic drone use.
The Seattle police dept. insists drones won't be used for spying.