FAA releases documents showing where government agencies are flying UAVs
A bipartisan pair of Congressmen joined forces Thursday to put important questions to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the agency’s plans to open up American skies to thousands of surveillance drones.
Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) penned a letter to the FAA demanding answers on how the federal agency will protect the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens if and when the use of unmanned ariel vehicles by government, law enforcement and private companies increases.
“There is…potential for drone technology to enable invasive and pervasive surveillance without adequate privacy protections.” the Congressmen’s letter stated.
“We are writing to express our concerns about the law’s potential privacy implications and to requisition information about how the FAA is addressing these important matters.” it continued.
Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.
Once signed by president Obama, the FAA Reauthorization Act allows for the FAA to permit the use of drones and develop regulations for testing and licensing by 2015.
“Many drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment, including video cameras, infrared thermal imagers, radar and wireless network ‘sniffers,’ ” the representatives wrote.
They added that the FAA has “the responsibility to ensure that the privacy of individuals is protected and that the public is fully informed about who is using drones in public airspace and why.”
Barton and Markey are acting in their roles as co-chairmen of the Congressional Privacy Caucus.
“We must ensure that as drones take flight in domestic airspace, they don’t take off without privacy protections for those along their flight path,” Markey said. “The potential for invasive surveillance of daily activities with drone technology is high. Standards for informing the public and ensuring safeguards must be put in place now to protect individual privacy.”
“When the domestic use of drones was legalized in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, I knew that the usage of these unmanned aircraft would bring a great benefit to our local and state governments, as well as some businesses,” Barton added. “However, if used improperly or unethically, drones could endanger privacy and I want to make sure that risk is taken into consideration.”
The FAA declined to comment on the lawmakers’ letter, however the agency has today released information regarding where drones are currently being flown and who is flying them.
The documents were released to the privacy watchdog The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) after the group sued the agency for initially not responding to a Freedom of Information Act request in January.
The FAA documents show which private companies and government entities currently have a certificate to fly drones in US airspace.
They include Raytheon, General Atomics, Telford Aviation, AAI Corp, Honeywell, Unmanned Systems Inc, L-3, and Aurora Flight Companies, as well as government agencies DARPA, the FBI, the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, & Homeland Security, and branches of the military.
As we reported in February, Over 30 prominent watchdog groups have banded together to petition the FAA on the proposed increase in the use of drones. The groups, including The American Civil Liberties Union, The Electronic Privacy Information Center and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, are demanding that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats.
The ACLU noted that the FAA’s legislation “would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”
In addition to privacy concerns, the groups warned that the ability to link facial recognition technology to surveillance drones and patch the information through to active government databases would “increase the First Amendment risks for would be political dissidents.”