Tuesday, September 29, 2015

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law student files federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration to get drone waiver data

Albert J. Plawinski, a second-year student at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to compel it to comply with the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A copy of the complaint is available online.

Plawinski has been doing research for a professor on the FAA's sluggish response to drones, which he calls "exciting new aviation technology." On June 5 of this year, Plawinski filed a FOIA request with the FAA asking it to release the contents of Certificates of Authority (COAs) it has granted to nearly 1,700 applicants for "section 333 exemptions" allowing them to fly small unmanned aircraft ("drones") commercially. The FAA has not sent Plawinski the information he requested.

"What I've asked for—the COAs—set specific limitations on drone flights to reduce risks of mid-air collisions with other aircraft and crashes that jeopardize people on the ground," Plawinski explained.

"It's irrational for them to put the exemptions up on their website, while keeping the COAs secret," he said. "The exemptions are only half the story."

Under the Freedom of Information Act, agencies receiving such requests must respond with the requested information or assert specific statutory exceptions to disclosure. Federal courts have the power to enforce the obligations and to scrutinize agency claims of exception.

"As a law student, I've learned that individual citizens must take action to make sure governmental agencies respect their legal obligations," he said.

Plawinski graduated from the University of Illinois in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in political science. He enrolled at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2014 and expects to receive his law degree in 2017.

Founded in 1888, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law is the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology, also known as Illinois Tech, a private, technology-focused, research university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, science, architecture, business, design, human sciences, applied technology, and law.

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