Here’s Who’s Buying Drones: Are Local Cops Watching You from the Sky?

Sunday, April 22, 2012
Drone, DraganFlyer X6 (photo:
Are the police using unmanned drones, like those used against terrorists in places like Pakistan and Yemen, to conduct surveillance of your community from the sky? Since 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued about 700 to 750 “Certificates of Authorization” (COAs) to 56 domestic government agencies and other entities that want to operate drones in the U.S. Some of the agencies have more than one COA, like the University of Colorado, which may have had as many as 100 different COAs over the last six years. But the FAA released the list of the 56 agencies only after the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and lawsuit against the FAA.
As AllGov reported last year, law enforcement leads the way on interest in drones. Of the 56 domestic agencies, 22 are primarily law enforcement agencies, like the Houston Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security, and 23 are agencies that have law enforcement functions under them, like the 24 universities on the list, all of which have police departments (in one case, a college is listed twice, once for its police department and once for a Research Institute).
Among the law enforcement agencies on the list are the Arlington Police Department in Texas; North Little Rock, Arkansas, PD; Queen Anne’s County Sheriff in Maryland; the FBI; Gadsden PD; Georgia Tech PD; Mesa County Sheriff in Colorado; Miami-Dade PD in Florida; Montgomery County Sheriff in Texas; Ogden, Utah, PD; Polk County Sheriff in Florida; and the Seattle, Washington, Police Department, not to mention Otter Tail County, Minnesota (population 57,303) and the city of Herington, Kansas (population 2,526).
In addition to the obvious privacy violations inherent in law enforcement use of unmanned drones to conduct surveillance on Americans, commercial pilots and airlines have pointed out that they pose a serious potential hazard to aviation. At present, there is no system that allows operators of unmanned drones to spot and avoid helicopters and planes, and drones are not integrated into the air traffic control system. As drone usage grows, the risk of accidents between drones and other aircraft will increase as well.
Among the major producers of drones are Raytheon, General Atomics and Honeywell.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
FAA Releases Lists of Drone Certificates—Many Questions Left Unanswered (by Jennifer Lynch, Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Arrival of Domestic Drones Challenges Air Safety (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
 Coming to a Neighborhood Near You…Drones You Can’t See (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov) 


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