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January 10, 2012 Who Is Flying Unmanned Aircraft in the U.S.? Government Withholds Information on Drone Flight Authorizations San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), demanding data on certifications and authorizations the agency has issued for the operation of unmanned aircraft, also known as drones.
Drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment – including video cameras, infrared cameras and heat sensors, and radar – that can allow for sophisticated and almost constant surveillance. They can also carry weapons. Traditionally, drones have been used almost exclusively by military and security organizations. However, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses drones inside the United States to patrol the U.S. borders, and state and local law enforcement are increasingly using unmanned aircraft for investigations into things like cattle rustling, drug dealing, and the search for missing persons.
Any drone flying over 400 feet needs a certification or authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, part of the DOT. But there is currently no information available to the public about who specifically has obtained these authorizations or for what purposes. EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act request in April of 2011 for records of unmanned aircraft activities, but the DOT so far has failed to provide the information.