FAA Has Authorized 106 Government ‘Entities’ to Fly Domestic Drones

By Terence P. Jeffrey

Since Jan. 1 of this year, according to congressional testimony presented Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the Federal Aviation Administration has authorized 106 federal, state and local government “entities” to fly “unmanned aircraft systems,” also known as drones, within U.S. airspace.

“We are now on the edge of a new horizon: using unmanned aerial systems within the homeland,” House Homeland Security Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Michael McCaul (R.-Texas) said as he introduced the testimony.

“Currently,” said McCaul, “there are about 200 active Certificates of Authorization issued by the Federal Aviation Administration to over 100 different entities, such as law enforcement departments and academic institutions, to fly drones domestically.”

panel’s Thursday hearing, McCaul showed a map of the United States with markers indicating the locations where–as of April–government entities had been approved by the FAA to fly drones.

“The number of recipients since that time has increased,” McCaul noted.

GAO testified that the FAA’s long-term goal is to permit drones to operate in U.S. airspace “to the greatest extent possible.”

The proliferation of domestic drones, GAO said, raises a number of issues, the first of which is the right to privacy.

“First is privacy as it relates to the collection and use of surveillance data,” Gerald L. Dillingham, GAO’s director of Physical Infrastructure Issues told the House Homeland Subcommittee on Oversight on Thursday.

“Members of Congress, civil liberties organizations and civilians have expressed concerns that the potential increased use of UAS in the national airspace by law enforcement or for commercial purposes has potential privacy implications,” said Dillingham. “Currently, no federal agency has specific statutory responsibility to regulate privacy matters relating to UAS. Stakeholders have told us that by developing guidelines for the appropriate use of UASs ahead of widespread proliferation could in fact preclude abuses of the technology and negative public perceptions of the potential uses that are planned for these aircraft.”

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