Credit: Defence Images / Foter.com / CC BY-NCCredit: Defence Images / Foter.com / CC BY-NCLocal and state governments are joining the feds in buying unmanned aerial vehicles, known as drones, to patrol the skies. Many drone uses are innocent enough, such as for scientific purposes and search and rescue missions, but most cities are grabbing Department of Homeland Security grants to buy these devices as part of their ongoing law-enforcement efforts. Agencies want to use them to monitor the border, search for drug dealers, hunt down alleged criminals, and target alleged terrorists.

Records obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation found scores of applications from local governments for permits, as well as widespread patrolling of U.S. skies by military officials. We all used to mock conspiracy types who feared “black helicopters” and military take-overs. But as Steven Greenhut observes, these drones are far more advanced than these imagined helicopters—and thousands of them might be flying overhead in the next few years.