FAA releases drone list—Is your town a free-fire zone?

The Federal Aviation Administration has finally released a new drone authorization list. This list, released in response to EFF’s Freedom of Information Act 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…

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.

Aside from the tinfoil-hat crowd, I have to roll back to my opinion about any kind of technology. What counts is the use – not the technology itself.

Of course, there are exceptions, legitimate or not so much. I don’t think high school students should spend time constructing nuclear weapons. I don’t think my fellow hunters need assault rifles.

I do think realtors should be allowed to use drones to video record property for sale. I think trained state police officers should be allowed to use Ferraris – if the state can afford them.

2 thoughts on “FAA releases drone list—Is your town a free-fire zone?

  1. Michelle Meaders says:

    I see there are two entities in New Mexico on the list, but only one spot: NM Tech and NMSU – Physical Science Lab.

    The latter has an interesting project that might be able to use drones:

    New Mexico State University’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems program and its new partner, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), recently completed tests that conclude that unmanned aircraft can be safely and effectively used to assess power grid damage following a storm or natural disaster.

    These efforts by the NMSU Physical Science Laboratory’s UAS program and EPRI could dramatically decrease the wait time on getting electrical power restored following an outage using an unmanned aircraft system called the Airborne Damage Assessment Module (ADAM) to examine and assess power lines after weather or other events cause damage to the lines. This evaluation process is the current bottleneck in assessing and repairing lines, according to the NMSU-EPRI contract.


  2. drugsandotherthings says:

    I pretty much agree with you. It’s not the technology that’s the problem, so much as the potential (and really, the probability) that it will, at some point, be abused.

    But really we should be demanding oversight- and severe penalties for abuses (of all sorts) rather then worrying about technologies that have potential to do great good.

    But of course, we have recently witnessed the fierce opposition to oversight by the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg (article here: http://www.salon.com/2013/04/02/big_brother_is_a_big_hypocrite/ )

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