Drone Census 2013-2014
No one, including federal airspace czars, 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 lists of which government players are flying UAVs at present vary considerably.
So we’re counting 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 uncovering precisely which government agencies across the country are using drones, the various purposes for which they're flown, and whether appropriate safeguards are in place to address privacy concerns.
MuckRock started the Drone Census last year in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In our first round, we asked more than 350 government agencies across the country for details of their drone use, or lack thereof. With help from more than 100 tip submissions, MuckRock uncovered new details of the Seattle drone scandal, Maine State Police's "toy" UAV purchase sans FAA oversight and Georgia Tech's grandiose plan to fly drones at football games.
The second iteration of the Drone Census is bigger, more exhaustive and even higher-flying. We intend to (literally) write the book on domestic drones. Watch this space and the Motherboard site 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. And tell us where to look for them by submitting government agency tips at the bottom of this page. ## What we've found so far
Documents continue to pour in from agencies across the country, and we're still submitting requests based on your tips and leads. But already, we've outlined the previously unknown history of the FBI's UAV program (plus the Bureau's difficulty counting its drones), found one drone purchased by police in Brunswick, Ga. with federal grants but sans FAA authorization, and pressed NYPD for details of its drone designs. And we're still digging! ## Tell us where to look
Here’s where you come in. As part of the first Drone Census push, MuckRock put out an open call: where do you want us to poke around for drones? Hundreds of people submitted government agencies that piqued their curiosity and hunches. And it paid off. Some of our most fascinating scoops and bizarre findings came from these crowdsourced leads. Your city not one of the ones that we've filed with yet? Click on a request, click "Clone", and then type in the place and agency you'd like to file with — it's that simply.
Over the course of the 23 thousand (and counting!) records requests we’ve filed, MuckRock has seen all sorts of responses. While the overwhelming majority of which have been polite and professional, there are a few that … well, weren’t. But nothing tops this response from a Massachusetts police department, which stands out as the closest we’ve gotten to a middle finger by fax.
A breach-of-contract squabble has spiraled into broader allegations of misconduct against a drone manufacturer with millions in US military contracts. A motion filed last week in Florida civil court claims that Prioria Robotics misrepresented specs for its flagship “microdrone,” and also sold refurbished units to the Army as if they were new.
Police in Los Angeles are playing the long game when it comes to drones. More than a year after the Los Angeles Police Department received two unmanned aerial vehicles, the units remain under lock and key awaiting clear policies on how they’ll be used in operations.
Drone Watch sent this request to the Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service of the United States of America