Written by Jennifer Lynch
View EFF's updated Map of Domestic Drone Authorizations in a larger window. (Clicking this link will serve content from Google.)
The Federal Aviation Administration has finally released a new drone authorization list. This list, released in response to EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, includes law enforcement agencies and universities across the country, and—for the first time—an Indian tribal agency. In all, the list includes more than 20 new entities over the FAA's original list, bringing to 81 the total number of public entities that have applied for FAA drone authorizations through October 2012.
Some of these new drone license applicants include:
The State Department
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Barona Band of Mission Indians Risk Management Office (near San Diego, California)
Canyon County Sheriff's Office (Idaho)
Clackamas County Sheriff's Office (Northwest Oregon)
Grand Forks Sheriff's Department (North Dakota)
King County Sheriff's Office (covering Seattle, Washington)
And several new entities in Ohio, including:
Medina County Sheriff's Office
Ohio Department of Transportation
Sinclair Community College
Lorain County Community College
The list comes amid extensive controversy over a newly-released memo documenting the CIA's policy on the targeted killing of American citizens and on the heels of news that Charlottesville, Virginia has just become one of the first cities in the country to ban drones. This new list should contribute to the debate over whether using domestic drones for surveillance is consistent with the Constitution and with American values.
As we've written in the past, drone use in the United States implicates serious privacy and civil liberties concerns. Although drones can be used for neutral, or even for positive purposes, drones are also capable of highly advanced and, in some cases, almost constant surveillance, and they can amass large amounts of data. Even the smallest drones can carry a host of surveillance equipment, from video cameras and thermal imaging to GPS tracking and cellphone eavesdropping tools. They can also be equipped with advanced forms of radar detection, license plate cameras, and facial recognition. And, as recent reporting from PBS and Slate shows, surveillance tools, like the military's development of gigapixel technology capable of "tracking people and vehicles across an entire city," are improving rapidly.
EFF hopes this list will spur more people to ask their local law enforcement agencies about their drone programs. EFF has partnered with MuckRock to make it easier to ask for and disseminate this information. We also encourage people to ask hard questions of government officials about who is funding drone development in their communities and what policies the government will demand agencies follow if they fly drones. We need greater transparency and citizen push-back to protect Americans from privacy-invasive domestic drone use.
You can find the new list here.
Jennifer Lynch is a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and works on open government, transparency and privacy issues as part of EFF’s FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) Project.