Most have heard about the unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones,” that the U.S. government has been flying over Pakistan and Afghanistan dropping bombs aimed at suspected militants and all too often killing innocent civilians. Increasingly, smaller versions of these planes are being purchased by police agencies, border control, and homeland security to use domestically. Rather than carrying weapons, they are outfitted with cameras allowing them to become an all-seeing eye in the sky.
In April 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a list of 63 launch sites approved to fly drones over U.S. airspace, although since 2006 they have issued between 700-750 operating licenses. Not included on the list was Champaign County, home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where the Sheriff has owned a drone since 2008. A Freedom of Information Act request turned up dozens of documents detailing why the Sheriff of a small Midwestern college town would want one of these mini-drones.