Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of all the city and state entities who have applied for a license to fly unmanned aerial drones. That list was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), an organization that champions "digital rights" and free speech. Topping the list of drone applicants: the Arlington Police Department.
As WFAA recently reported, the Arlington PD actually already has two small, remote-controlled helicopters, which they purchased last year for $202,259 from Leptron Industrial Robotic Technologies. According to the news station, grant money from Homeland Security paid for the drones.
Now, it looks like they're hoping to actually be able to fly them. The EFF and other civil liberties organizations are not happy.
"Although drones can be used for neutral, or even for positive purposes, drones are also capable of highly advanced and, in some cases, almost constant surveillance, and they can amass large amounts of data," the EFF wrote in a press release announcing the newly released applicant list. "Even the smallest drones can carry a host of surveillance equipment, from video cameras and thermal imaging to GPS tracking and cellphone eavesdropping tools. They can also be equipped with advanced forms of radar detection, license plate cameras, and facial recognition."
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Privacy concerns and a sense of unease at the prospect of being watched from above seem to unite people across the political divide. In Texas' first anti-drone bill, Representative Lance Gooden, a Republican from Terrell, recently filed a piece of legislation that would make it a crime to use a drone to photograph private property without consent .
The Arlington Police top a list of 81 other public entities who applied for drone licenses through October of last year. There are a number of applicants from Texas, including the Houston Police Department, the Hays County Emergency Service Office, Texas State University and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Texas A&M applied for two: one for their Corpus Christi campus, and one for the school's Texas Engineering Experiment Station.
Nationally, the list includes several universities and even community colleges, as well as the State Department, the FBI, Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection Division, NASA, NOAA, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force.
Congratulations. Everyone could soon be watching you all the time. Even in Arlington.