EFF recently received records from the Miami-Dade Police Department in response to a Public Records request for information on its drone program. These records provide additional insight into domestic drone use in the United States, and they reinforce the importance of public access to information on who is authorized to fly drones inside US borders.
The records the Miami-Dade PD released include the Federal Aviation Administration-issued Certificate of Authorization (COA) to fly the MDPD drones. This appears to be the first time a law enforcement agency has made its COA available to the public without redactions.
The COA and the other records EFF received show that Miami-Dade’s drone program is quite limited in scope. The two small drones the MDPD is flying—Honeywell T-Hawks—are able to fly up to 10,000 feet high, can record video or still images in daylight or infrared, and can “Hover and stare; [and] follow and zoom,” (pdf) according to the manufacturer. However, the COA limits their use to flights below 300 feet. The drones also must remain within visual line of sight of both a pilot and an observer and can only be flown during the day. They cannot be flown within the Miami city limits or over any high-rise buildings, populated beaches, outdoor assemblies of people, or heavily trafficked roadways (which seems to severely limit their range). Also, the MDPD has stated it doesn’t use the drones to record incidents or store image files and that the drone is set up to “clear the picture upon the next picture being captured.” (It is not clear from MDPD’s records whether the department has another system set up to retain the image files.)