The drones are coming — to America

Thursday, April 12, 2012
By Paul Martin

Congress has opened up U.S. airspace to the drone industry — and your privacy is about to be at risk

BY JEFFERSON MORLEY
Salon.com

A drone is probably heading toward your personal airspace soon. With Congress requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to simplify and expedite drone applications from U.S. police departments by May 15, industry and watchdog groups agree: It won’t be long before cops and first responders put them into action.

Thanks to a law passed without much public debate in March, the FAA must allow law enforcement agencies to operate small drones (i.e., less than 4.4 pounds) at altitudes of less than 400 feet. “The demand is huge,” says Catherine Crump, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says there are nearly 19,000 law enforcement entities in the United States, of which only 300 now have aerial surveillance capacities.

“Those departments have helicopters which cost about $1,500 an hour to operate,” Toscano says. “You can fly these drones for maybe less than $50 hour. A lot of smaller departments can now afford this technology.”

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