Drones In America? They are Already Here...
These records, received as a result of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), come from state and local law enforcement agencies, universities and—for the first time—three branches of the U.S. military: the Air Force, Marine Corps, and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
The records show that the Air Force has been testing out a bunch of different drone types, from the smaller, hand-launched Raven, Puma and Wasp drones designed by Aerovironment in Southern California, to the much larger Predator and Reaper drones responsible for civilian and foreign military deaths abroad. The Marine Corps is also testing drones, though it chose to redact so much of the text from its records that we still don’t know much about its programs.
Perhaps the scariest is the technology carried by a Reaper drone the Air Force is flying near Lincoln, Nevada and in areas of California and Utah. This drone uses “Gorgon Stare” technology, which Wikipedia defines as “a spherical array of nine cameras attached to an aerial drone . . . capable of capturing motion imagery of an entire city.” This imagery “can then be analyzed by humans or an artificial intelligence, such as the Mind’s Eye project” being developed by DARPA. If true, this technology takes surveillance to a whole new level.
While LIDAR can be used to create high-resolution images of the earth’s surface, it is also used in high tech police speed guns—begging the question of whether drones will soon be used for minor traffic violations.
However, once again, the records do not show that the FAA had any concerns about drone flights’ impact on privacy and civil liberties.This is especially problematic when drone programs like Otter Tail’s appear on first glance to be benign but later turn out to support the same problematic law enforcement uses that EFF has been increasingly concerned about.
It’s been over a year and a half since we first filed our FOIA request with the FAA, and we’re still waiting for more than half of the agency’s drone records. This is unacceptable.