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.
“Quickly integrate a wide range of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles, operated by both governmental and corporate entities, with commercial and general aviation traffic across the nation’s skies by September 2015.”
So why is Drone usage suddenly popping up all over the place? It basically comes down to Congress. Feeling that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) wasn’t moving fast enough on the subject of Drones, Congress put in a mandate in the FAA funding bill demanding that they “quickly integrate a wide range of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles, operated by both governmental and corporate entities, with commercial and general aviation traffic across the nation’s skies by September 2015.” This establishes specific deadlines designed to speed up the widespread use of unmanned planes, or drones, across the U.S.
The FAA funding package with this mandate passed the House in a 248-169 vote. Indeed the push through Congress was well organized and well funded. I present as evidence the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus website.
In addition to that big push from the FAA, the Department of Homeland Security announced a program to further “facilitate and accelerate the adoption” of drones by local police agencies. This includes giving grants and training to local police departments and assists in choosing the “proper drone” for their particular needs. Just what the law enforcement of this country needs.. a one stop shopping experience.
A person might ask.. “Well, we have police helicopters right now. How are these any different?” That question perhaps could be answered by giving just a little bit of information of the capabilities of this new technology. The small unmanned aircraft are far more maneuverable and quieter than helicopters and piloted aircraft and are capable of carrying gigapixel cameras complete with infrared and thermal imaging technology, automated license plate readers and facial recognition technology. They have the capability of tracking multiple targets and provide surveillance over entire cities at the same time down to the street level. A single “eye” that watches everything that EVERYONE does. The expectation of reasonable privacy for the innocents has been exchanged for the “Al-Qaeda” plan… right under our noses.
But hey… if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about, right?
That in a nutshell is the big advantage with Drones. The country can avoid the checks and balances of Congressional Oversight when committing acts of war overseas. The country can avoid the “messiness” of court justice when there’s an American citizen abroad that they deem a terrorist by just assassinating them. You don’t need a trial when they’re dead right? And domestically the country can avoid violations of privacy and surveillance because “it’s not a human being that’s doing it.”
Look… up in the sky… it’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a Drone?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has always been at the forefront of fighting for your rights in the Digital Age. They have filed several Freedom of Information requests in their efforts to obtain information of the use of Drones.