EPIC Obtains Records About Texas’s Use of Aerial Surveillance

August 10, 2020

Through a Public Information Act request to the Texas Department of Public Safety, EPIC obtained records about the department's use of two Pilatus surveillance planes, including videos recorded during the George Floyd protests. Reports have indicated that these planes, purchased by the state for border operations, were used to surveil cities hundreds of miles from the border. EPIC obtained flight logs from January 1, 2018 to June 15, 2020, plane technical specifications and the department's video retention policy. The flight logs revealed that the surveillance planes flew an average of one flight per day between May 25 to June 15, 2020, with a total of 103 hours of total flight time. In over ninety percent of these flights, the planes recorded no video. The planes reportedly cost an average of $474 an hour to fly, and the Texas DPS spent roughly $49,000 to record three videos over the three-week span. The Texas DPS withheld three videos recorded between May 25 to June 15, 2020, during the height of the George Floyd protests, despite its video retention policy stating that "all retained video copies…will be subject to open records requests." EPIC has long highlighted the privacy and civil liberties implications of aerial surveillance technology and has called on Congress to "establish drone privacy safeguards that limit the risk of public surveillance."

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