The Drone Census flies again

We’re going to count the drones. All of them. And you’re going to help.

Written by Shawn Musgrave

Today marks the official launch of the second round of MuckRock’s Drone Census project. In the first iteration, MuckRock found drones in some unexpected places, from large police departments to small research agencies. In collaboration with Motherboard, we intend to find, count and map every single UAV flying in domestic skies.

Check out the launch announcement over at Motherboard and the first pieces to come out of our second round of records requests, including one small-town Georgia police department that received Justice Department funds to buy its first drone but hasn’t received the appropriate approval to actually fly it. Watch the project sites at MuckRock and Motherboard over the coming weeks for updates and analysis on who has drones, what they’re doing with them and whether privacy concerns are being taken into account.

A bit about the Drone Census:

No one, including federal airspace overlords, seems to know with any authority just how many drones are flying around domestic airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration has prophesied that there could be upwards of 30,000 drones in the air by 2030, but its lists of which government players are flying UAVs at present vary considerably.

So we’re going to count the drones. All of them. And you’re going to help.

The Drone Census 2013-2014 is a joint initiative between Motherboard and MuckRock. Together, we’re going to uncover precisely which government agencies across the country are using drones, the various purposes people have found for them, and whether appropriate safeguards are in place to address privacy concerns.

Thus MuckRock started the Drone Census last year in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a way of taking stock, asking more than 350 government agencies across the country for details of their drone use, or lack thereof. This latest iteration of the Drone Census is going to be bigger, more exhaustive and even higher-flying. We intend to (literally) write the book on domestic drones.

Here’s where you come in. As part of the first Drone Census push, MuckRock put out an open call to the Internet: where do you want us to poke around for drones? More than a hundred people submitted government agencies that piqued their curiosity and paranoid hunches. And it paid off. Some of the most fascinating and bizarre findings came from these crowdsourced leads, so we’re doing it again.

Click here to join the investigation and submit your local police department, emergency response office, university or dogcatcher to the Drone Census. The weirder the query and longer the shot, the better, as far as we’re concerned.