How many drones are being deployed by agencies across the United States? How many local police departments are planning on using them to patrol street corners, and how many state disaster preparedness agencies are studying their use for emergency response? And how are all these agencies - from the tiniest towns to the most populous of states - planning on regulating drones to prevent abuse?
Today, the public doesn’t have these answers, but with you can change that. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and MuckRock have partnered to create a national project that helps anyone openly file and track public records requests which can answer just these questions, providing spot checks across America on which agencies and departments are planning, deploying or budgeting for drone deployments now or in the future. It’s a national census for government drone usage, and we need your help. It will only take a minute, and can be, if you choose, done anonymously.
And best of all, it’s free.
Suspect your local police department, college or other government entity has been playing around with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), aka “drones”? Or do you want to know more about the drone activity they’re engaging in? All you have to do is provide the contact information for the agency you want to know about, and MuckRock will file the request on your behalf.
After we sort through the information you provide, all requests will be filed publicly and can be tracked on the DroneWatch page. Already, the Boston Police Department went on record as having no drone plans, while a related request to the University of Arizona uncovered a $5,000 drone-related payment from Raytheon.
What will your request dig up?
The project will start with the list of agencies that the EFF has uncovered received FAA Certificates of Authorizations to test drones and will then proceed to your submitted requests.
Please note that, because of legal, technical and other limitations, we reserve the right to not file certain requests (for example, if we can’t find or verify contact information), and that we cannot guarantee that every request will be accurately and honestly fulfilled by the agency, but our goal is to cast as broad a net and shine as bright a light as possible.
Thank you for your help!
Please note that the following is a draft of the requests that will be filed with agencies. Exact wording will be automatically customized for each state and local jurisdiction, and the request body is subject to revisions.
To Whom It May Concern:
We request all records (including, but not limited to, electronic records) maintained by this department and its officers, employees, and agents discussing, concerning, or reflecting:
1. any requests for proposals, proposals submitted by vendors, contracts, budgets or cost allocations for the purchase and/or use of aerial drones, UAs, UAVs, and UASs (hereinafter “drones”);
2. any policies, guidelines, manuals and/or instructions on department use of drones, including on the legal process required (such as a warrant or court order), if any, before operating a drone;
3. any departmental records concerning this department’s use of drones now or plans to use drones in the future including:
a. the types of investigations or instances in which this department is using or plans to use drones, or how it plans to support, manage or oversee the usage of drones by another department or office;
b. policies, guidelines, manuals and/or instructions on storage requirements or procedures for video or static images obtained through use of drones, including retention times;
c. the altitude at which drones can or do fly;
d. drones’ ability to carry weapons.
We ask that fees be waived for this request. The information we seek is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of government activity, and the public is increasingly interested in government use and oversight of drones for surveillance and to combat domestic criminal activity.
The requested documents will be made available to the general public free of charge as part of the public information service at MuckRock.com, processed by a representative of the news media/press and is made in the process of news gathering and not for commercial usage.
In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e- mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.
Base image of 1940 census enumerator recording information from a farmer, courtesy of National Archives. Left drone image courtesy of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Right drone courtesy of NASA.