The government might have lost some of their spying authority after sections of the Patriot Act expired earlier this week, but they still have plenty of ways to gather information on American citizens.

According to a new Associated Press report, the FBI has been operating small, low-flying aircraft equipped with cameras and recording devices to gather surveillance on American citizens. The AP reports that the program has been used in Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, Houston, Phoenix, and Seattle.

These surveillance flights are conducted without a warrant, which is a clear violation of the Constitution, just like the surveillance and metadata collection provisions of the Patriot Act.

The FBI claims that the surveillance plane program has never been a secret, however, the AP report is among the first to ever report on the program. At least 115 planes are currently in the FBI fleet.

In addition to capturing video on their own, these aircraft are also equipped with technology capable of deciphering cell phone data from above, even if phones are not currently in use. This provides data as to who is in the vicinity below based on cell phone numbers and phone records.

This story reads like a page from Orwell’s 1984, but according to the Associated Press, this is what is happening in America today. So, even with portions of the Patriot Act expired – at least temporarily – don’t assume that the government isn’t collecting data on citizen activity.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at He is the co-host / guest host for Ring of Fire Radio. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced