Drones, made famous by their use to destroy military targets in Iraq and Afghanistan and identify people illegally attempting to enter the United States from Mexico, are also being used by Texas police departments and universities.
Their widespread domestic use might have caught some Americans unawares when the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation announced last week that it finally won a legal battle with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Officials from EFF, a nonprofit organization that advocates for individual rights in the digital world, used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a list that shows for the first time what public agencies the U.S. government has authorized to use drones.
Texas is home to many: the Houston and Arlington police departments; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Hays County Office of Emergency Management in San Marcos; Texas A&M University Corpus Christi; Texas A&M – Texas Engineering Experiment Station in College Station and Texas State University in San Marcos.
“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,” writes the EFF’s Jennifer Lynch.
See a map of the agencies given permission to fly drones here.
EFF officials also obtained a list of private drone manufacturers authorized to fly drones domestically.
Unfortunately, these lists leave many questions unanswered. For example, the (Certificate of Authorization) list does not include any information on which model of drone or how many drones each (public) entity flies. In a meeting with the FAA (last week), the agency confirmed that there were about 300 active Certificates of Authorizations and that the agency has issued about 700-750 authorizations since the program began in 2006. As there are only about 60 entities on (that) list, this means that many of the entities, if not all of them, have multiple Certificates of Authorizations.
It’s also not clear when certain certificates expired and why other applications were not approved, she writes.
Contact Mike Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.
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Photo of a drone via Defense.gov, which says the photo is from a scheduled missile exercise aboard the USS Tortuga in Singapore on June 26, 2008.