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    Update: Florida hopes to fill its skies with unmanned aircraft

    In the last year, there has been increasing focus on the issue of domestic use of aerial drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAVs”) to conduct surveillance. Several months ago, Congress approved the FAA reauthorization bill, which includes a provision to integrate the use of aerial surveillance by drones in the United States by 2015. Read a previous post for more on the privacy and civil liberty questions, as well as deadlines for domestic use of drones. Also, read these previous news articles on the issue, from: the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

    Now, USA Today is taking a closer look at the possible use of UAVs by law enforcement in Florida:

    MELBOURNE, Fla. – From Cape Canaveral, a 66-foot wingspan, remotely piloted U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft takes off in search of drug traffickers, illegal immigrants and terrorists from heights of up to 50,000 feet.

    On Lake Okeechobee, researchers hurl a custom-built, 9-foot wingspan plane from an airboat to launch an automated, low-altitude flight to monitor invasive plants.

    From large to small, the number of such unmanned aircraft systems — popularly called “drones” — is expected to surge as the federal government works to open civilian airspace to them by 2015. Florida officials hope to position the state as a hub for this fast-growing industry by becoming a test site.

    “The skies over Florida will look dramatically different in the years to come,” Space Florida President Frank DiBello told a gathering of aerospace professionals this month.

    The agency’s board recently approved spending up to $1.4 million to try to win designation as one of six test ranges across the country that Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to name by the end of the year. […]

    As drones proliferate, privacy advocates fear unchecked spying by thousands of airborne vehicles. […]

    Beyond basic concerns about airworthiness, privacy groups say the platforms offer unprecedented surveillance capabilities that could be abused by law enforcement, criminals or commercial users. […]

    The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says privacy concerns are being addressed, including work to set law enforcement guidelines for collection and disposal of data unmanned vehicles collect.


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