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    Introducing the Motherboard-MuckRock Drone Census

    Written by

    Shawn Musgrave


    Image via Flickr/CC. 

    If you work in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems office, 2015 is coming up fast. Probably too fast. Under legislation passed by Congress last year, the FAA must safely integrate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, commonly known as “drones”) into domestic airspace by September 2015.

    This is no small feat for a number of reasons, not least of which is that no one seems to know with any authority just how many of the damn things are flying around in the first place. The FAA has prophesied that there could be upwards of 30,000 drones in the air by 2030, but its lists of government players flying UAVs in the present tense vary widely.

    So we’re going to count the drones. All of them. And you’re going to help.

    The Drone Census 2013-2014 is a joint initiative between Motherboard and the public records sleuths at MuckRock. Together, we’re going to uncover precisely which government agencies across the country are using drones, the various purposes people have found for these flying robots and whether appropriate safeguards are in place to address a slew of privacy issues.

    As with many issues at the intersection of technology and government, drones are murkily understood at best, particularly on a systematic scale. The FAA is scrambling to keep up with innovation even as new applications for drone technology emerge by the week and government money pours into their deployment by the millions.

    Thus MuckRock started the Drone Census last year in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a way of taking stock, asking more than 350 government agencies across the country for details of their drone use, or lack thereof. This latest iteration of the Drone Census is going to be bigger, more exhaustive and even higher-flying. We intend to (literally) write the book on domestic drones.

    Here’s where you come in. As part of the first Drone Census push, MuckRock put out an open call to the Internet: where do you want us to poke around for drones? More than a hundred people submitted government agencies that piqued their curiosity and paranoid hunches. And it paid off. Some of the most fascinating and bizarre findings came from these crowdsourced leads, so we’re doing it again.

    Click here to join the investigation and submit your local police department, emergency response office, university or dogcatcher to the Drone Census. The weirder the query and longer the shot, the better, as far as we’re concerned.

    Check this space for updates on the project and groundbreaking reports on drones over America. Some say the drones are coming. We know they’re already here.