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Newsmonger: SA man sues feds, state to get God out of court (and off the bills), Real ID wrasslin' continues in D.C., New documents show where DPS wanted drones in South Texas

Photo: GREG HARMAN, License: N/A

GREG HARMAN

Photo: , License: N/A

Documents from the Federal Aviation Administration, released under a recent Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the feds, provide more insight into the secretive and now-shuttered attempt by the Texas Department of Public Safety to launch small drones, called WASPs, to "support critical law enforcement operations in South Texas."


Brischetto agrees. “We’ve got a national effort to see if we can’t change the election by effecting who it is that turns out to vote. These laws are likely to have a chilling effect on turnout.”

Voter ID or no, Republicans are still expected to carry statewide races. Where the change could be critical is in local contests and at the State Board of Education. “There are still down-ticket races that are going to be effected by turnout,” Brischetto said.

The three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. that heard arguments on SB14 last week hopes to rule before the November election. In San Antonio, many of the law's opponents are focusing on keeping turnout high despite whatever verdict the court may reach. “Every election cycle, that’s out goal: encourage more people to vote,” Hill said. “The vote is their voice.”

New documents show where DPS wanted drones in South Texas

At least 18 police departments, universities and other government agencies have secured federal clearance to put unmanned eyes in the skies across the country, according to a trove of new documents unearthed last week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The documents from the Federal Aviation Administration, released under the EFF's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the feds, provide   more insight into the secretive and now-shuttered attempt by the Texas Department of Public Safety to launch small drones, called WASPs, to “support critical law enforcement operations in South Texas.”

Records previously obtained by EFF show DPS contracted in 2007 and 2008 with a wing of AeroVironment, one of the largest suppliers of drones to the U.S. military, to help pioneer a system. DPS bought two of the company's one-pound WASP drones, according to records, costing the state about $300,000. But DPS shelved its drone dreams in the fall of 2010 due to a number of complications, said DPS spokesman Tim Vinger in an email Monday, including “complicated Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, battery life of the device, maintenance costs and deficient video quality.”

The FAA documents obtained by the EFF last week give in exhaustive detail the specifications of the system, safety issues with drone flights, how they were flying, and where they were flying. But some of the most important questions about Texas' program, along with those still in operation around the country, have yet to be answered. These new records show the “target area” of airspace covered by DPS' Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the federal government. It's a rough triangle stretching across a broad swath of South Texas, encompassing parts of Jim Hogg, Kleberg, Brooks, and Hidalgo counties. When asked about the map, and what operations DPS planned to use the drones for in South Texas, Vinger replied Monday, “We probably can't answer that today. I've never discussed that with anybody.” Later, in an email, he elaborated, slightly, on the intent of the program, saying it was “an effort to increase officer safety by leveraging technology in potentially dangerous and unstable situations without placing law enforcement officers in harm's way.” The drones, he said, were used in less than 10 missions while the program was still up and running — he didn't say what kind of investigations or missions the drones were used for.

Records show DPS submitted a second purchase order for more drones in 2009, though it seems it canceled the order the following year.

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