Thirty-four colleges and universities applied for permission to fly unmanned surveillance drones over campuses across the U.S. in 2012, according to records obtained by a privacy watchdog group. The schools are citing plans for scientific research, but activists and privacy experts are concerned, Fox News reports.

Domestically, drone use has skyrocketed: More than 80 applications for drone-flying permits were filed with the Federal Aviation Administration in 2012, including more than 30 universities, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says.

Universities applying for permits include:

  • Cornell University, which applied to use a university-built drone to collect atmosphere and weather data as well as to track airborne spores in a study drafted to combat potato blight, Fox reports. The study was completed in 2012, and the permit has since expired.
  • The University of Michigan applied for drone use on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay for “persistent surveillance on open water by gathering data as a driving surface buoy that repositions via flight,” the article says.
  • The University of Florida applied for a permit to fly a NOVA “in support of ongoing aerospace, geomatics, ecological and aquatic research.”
  • The University of Wisconsin-Madison applied for the purpose of attaching a camera to a remotely controlled plane to take “low-altitude pictures” for a river restoration project.
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology’s police department, however, applied for a permit to use two small helicopter drones during special events as well as day-to-day operations “to respond to areas before a police officer would quickly place ‘eyes on the target or crisis area.’”

Georgia Tech's police department first applied in 2009, but was denied. But Steven J. Healy, managing partner of Margolis Healy, a Vermont-based campus security consulting firm told Fox: “The majority of crimes on a college campus happen behind closed doors. Drones wouldn’t do much good in helping to spot anything as it’s occurring.”

The school has dropped its bid for a permit after being denied, allocating police resources elsewhere.

In recent years, the federal government has increased efforts to issue private licenses for drone use – nearly 1,500 have been issued since 2007, according to statistics issued this month, Fox News reports. Only 327 of those permits are still active.