When you think about drones, you probably think of the strikes in Pakistan, the potentially fatal hellfire missiles, right?  But just look in the sky now.

The FAA is fielding new requests for drone authorizations all the time, and they aren’t always from whom you’d expect.  A few of the latest are:

  • Barona Band of Mission Indians Risk Management Office (near San Diego, Calif.)
  • Canyon County Sheriff’s Office (Idaho)
  • The State Department
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office (Northwest Ore.)
  • Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department (N.D.)
  • King County Sheriff’s Office (covering Seattle, Wash.)

One non-profit organization filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request demanding release of the full list of authorizations for public drone flights in the U.S.  And the map detailing where current drone permits have been issued is pretty impressive.  Basically, wherever you live, there might be a drone around.

Is this a bad thing?  It saves money, as a drone and its operation are a lot less expensive than say, a helicopter and pilot. (Perhaps, fewer taxes?)

A drone can fly remarkably longer than a manned aircraft.  Some of the advanced drones used by the military remain active for days on end.  That means more extensive coverage to protect the police officers on the ground.  That’s good.

Drones provide greater cooperation among federal agencies, the military, and state and local LEO’s through shared practices and information.  Ever since the military started with drones, it has been transmitting information to law enforcement agencies.

The cheaper cost of drones, insurance, etc., allows smaller agencies access to a more sophisticated tool, providing air coverage for its officers and an enhanced instrument to find lost people (search and rescue work), among other things.

Good reasons, right?  But there has to be some public relations efforts to put an appealing gloss on the project.  Why?  Because people are apprehensive about robot birds of prey with cameras just watching you, watching you, watching you.  You get it.

Many civil liberties groups and privacy-minded citizens remain skeptical.  Seattle’s mayor actually returned the FREE UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) given to law enforcement back to the manufacturer because citizens complained.  Charlottesville, Va. recently became the first city to ban drones.

So, while drones are a potentially positive tool for law enforcement agencies and the military, the whole program must first justify itself enough to gain popular support.  Or it may just crash and burn.  I’m sorry—I couldn’t resist.

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Joshua Marpet is on the Board of Directors of two Infosec conferences, BSides Las Vegas, and Security BSides Delaware. He is also staff at Derbycon, Shmoocon, and as the "InfoSec Megaphone", anywhere else he goes. Joshua is an experienced Forensic, Incident Response, and mobile forensics expert and researcher. As an adjunct professor at Wilmington University, he teaches Information Security at an NSA/DHS certified Center of Academic Excellence. In his professional life, he is a managing partner at Guarded Risk, a proactive forensics and proactive incident response firm.