April 23, 2012 at 6:42 PM ET
Most people are aware that the military uses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) overseas in wars and other operations. But there are also hundreds in operation here in the U.S., newly released records show. The Federal Aviation Administration has made public various documents and certificates that describe the locations and owners of drones throughout the country.
But don't put on your tinfoil hats just yet: the organizations and agencies that own and operate these drones seem to have legitimate uses for them, and the companies that make the drones have gotten special certification from the FAA to sell them.
The Army, Navy and Air Force all use them, plus NASA, NOAA, the FBI, and the Departments of Defense, Energy, Agriculture, and Homeland Security. Plus about two dozen universities and research departments. Lastly are the various police departments: Seattle, Arlington, Houston, Miami-Dade and more.
That last group is perhaps the most worrying: for border patrol units, it makes fiscal sense to have drones instead of jeeps or surveillance towers. But in-city policing could be a minefield of privacy and safety concerns.
The EFF, which requested this information, has parsed it into map form based on the locations of the organizations listed. What the information doesn't reveal, however, is what kind of drone they use and what they use it for. The FAA does say this data is forthcoming.
Drones operating in your area could easily just be being used to monitor high-risk areas for wildfires, or to take atmospheric readings. And the police, too, should have documented, limited uses for them. But if you're curious or perhaps (justifiably) a bit paranoid, all that is or soon will be public information. Ask your local police department or government representative if you're worried.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.