Eli Dourado

Eli Dourado

  • Director of Technology Policy Program
  • Research Fellow

Eli Dourado is a research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and director of its Technology Policy Program. He specializes in Internet governance, intellectual property, cryptocurrency, Internet security, and the economics of technology. His popular writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostForeign PolicyThe GuardianArs Technica, and Wired, among other outlets.

Dourado is a member of the State Department’s International Telecommunication Advisory Committee and has served on several U.S. delegations to UN treaty and policy conferences. In 2013, he won an IP3 award from Public Knowledge for the creation of WCITLeaks.org, a transparency website focused on the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

Dourado is a PhD candidate in economics at George Mason University and received his BA in economics and political science from Furman University.

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Published Research

Working Papers


Eli Dourado, Michael Kotrous | Jul 20, 2016
This year marks the 40th anniversaries of two of the greatest achievements in manned flight. In 1976, US military pilot Eldon W. Joersz set the still-standing airspeed record of 2,193.2 mph in the Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird.” That same year, the Concorde introduced the world to supersonic commercial travel with the first passenger flights to break the sound barrier.
Eli Dourado, Andrea Castillo | May 18, 2016
In March of this year, the first FAA-approved autonomous commercial drone delivery to an urban residence took place in Nevada. This milestone highlights the exciting opportunities that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can present. If we get our policies right, UASs can yield dividends in cost savings and economic growth in areas like consumer delivery, agriculture, industrial management, and journalism. A new FAA report suggests that a poorly considered regulatory regime could severely inhibit the growth of this promising industry before it has a chance to take flight.
Eli Dourado, Joseph Kane, Andrea Castillo | Apr 27, 2016
The FBI’s recent conflict with Apple over accessing a locked iPhone in its investigation of the San Bernardino terrorist attack eventually settled out of court when an external party was able to unlock the device. Contrary to the government’s claims that this incident was about just one iPhone, this was far from the first time that law enforcement cited the All Writs Act of 1789 (AWA) to compel private companies to compromise secure devices. This week’s chart shows that law enforcement agencies have attempted to apply this law numerous times in recent years for a range of criminal offenses, particularly drug-related crimes.
Eli Dourado | Mar 22, 2016
In 2006, more patent lawsuits were filed in the Eastern District of Texas than in any other federal judicial district. But EDTX was just getting started. By 2015, more than 9.5 times as many cases were filed in the courthouse in Marshall, TX, where two judges with a reputation for siding with patent plaintiffs preside.
Andrea Castillo, Eli Dourado | Feb 26, 2016
These charts use data from the annual Wiretap Reports published by the Administrative Office of the US Courts to display the portion of total reported wiretap orders that have been undermined by encryption technologies from 2001 to 2014. (This dataset only examines domestic wiretap requests. Information relating to wiretap requests regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 is not available.) The charts show that, contrary to popular assumption, encryption technologies have only complicated a minuscule percentage of reported wiretap investigations over the past 15 years.
Eli Dourado | Sep 22, 2015
Is East Texas the next Silicon Valley? If patent activity were a measure of innovation, you might think so. Marshall, TX, a city with a population of 23,523 located near the Louisiana border, is known to every patent attorney in the country for its prodigious volume of patent litigation. This chart shows the number of patent cases filed in federal district court in the Eastern District of Texas versus the average of the 93 other federal judicial districts in the first half of 2015, using data compiled by Lex Machina.
Eli Dourado, Andrea Castillo | Aug 10, 2015
This week’s charts use data from three sources: a July 8 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled “Information Security: Cyber Threats and Data Breaches Illustrate Need for Stronger Controls across Federal Agencies,” the Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) Report to Congress for FY 2014, and the White House’s “Cybersecurity Sprint Results” report from July 2015. The charts display reported federal material information security weakness and degree of compliance with prevailing federal cybersecurity standards in fiscal year (FY) 2014.
Eli Dourado, Andrea Castillo | Apr 29, 2015
This weeks’ charts use data from the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) FY 2014 Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) compliance report to display the agency share, type, and number of reported federal information security incidents for FY 2014 and over time.

Policy Briefs

Eli Dourado, Samuel Hammond | Mar 14, 2016
Yet many drones weighing more than 250g are little more than toys. Do they really pose a risk to the airspace? To explore this question, we examine 25 years of data from the FAA’s wildlife strike database. Although aircraft collide with birds many thousands of times per year, only a tiny fraction of those collisions result in damage to the aircraft, much less human injuries or deaths. The most serious reported incidents typically involved flocks of large birds. Since the addition of UAS to the airspace is similar in many respects to an increase in the bird population, we conclude that the risk to the airspace caused by small drones (for example, weighing up to 2kg, or 4.41 pounds) flying in solitary formation is minimal.
Eli Dourado, Christopher Koopman | Dec 10, 2015
We report on new data received from the Internal Revenue Service that sheds light on the changes in independent contracting. Our data support the claim that there has been an increase in nontraditional employment, but the data refute the idea that this increase is caused by the sharing-economy firms that have arisen since 2008. Instead, we view the rise of sharing-economy firms as a response to a stagnant traditional labor sector and a product of the growing independent workforce.
Eli Dourado, Andrea Castillo | Jun 22, 2015
After briefly outlining the current cybersecurity information sharing proposals, we will examine the performance of the many similar programs that the federal government has operated for years. The government’s inability to properly implement previous information sharing systems even internally, along with its ongoing failures to secure its own information systems, casts doubt on the viability of proposed government-led information sharing initiatives to improve the nation’s cybersecurity. We will then examine the flawed assumptions that underlie information sharing advocacy before exploring solutions that can comprehensively address the nation’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Eli Dourado, Andrea Castillo | Jun 22, 2015
This paper will review the laws and standards governing federal cybersecurity policy and will highlight how overlapping responsibilities and unclear lines of authority have accompanied increasing rates of federal information security failures. The paper will then describe how these systemic cybersecurity weaknesses demonstrate the federal government to be an especially poor candidate for managing national systems, and it will explain the shortcomings of a top-down, technocratic approach.

Testimony & Comments

Eli Dourado | Mar 10, 2016
We are at an exciting point in the history of unmanned aircraft. I think of drones as occupying a similar position now as the Internet did in the late 1980s. As members of this committee know, until 1989, use of the Internet for commercial purposes was generally prohibited. The removal of that prohibition resulted in an explosion of innovation, much of it completely unanticipated, that has persisted until today.
Eli Dourado, Samuel Hammond | Jan 15, 2016
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an interim final rule creating a new electronic registration system for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and requiring, for the first time, the registration of model aircraft operators. This comment highlights an omission in the agency’s alternative scenario analysis, questions some of the purported benefits of the rule, and points out some of the continuing legal shortcomings associated with the FAA’s approach. While we support the advent of a simple and streamlined registration system, we object to the extension of the registration requirement to model aircraft operators.
Eli Dourado, Samuel Hammond | Nov 06, 2015
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing to implement a national registration system for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs), the details of which are to be recom- mended by a task force no later than November 20. The stated aim of the registry is to assist in identifying owners and operators of UASs that violate the law and endanger safety, thereby closing a perceived gap in enforcement. This comment highlights several major procedural concerns, followed by an examination of whether the safety benefits of a registry are likely to outweigh the societal and budgetary costs.
Eli Dourado, Ryan Hagemann, Adam Thierer | Apr 24, 2015
The FAA must carefully consider the potential effect of UASs on the US economy. If it does not, innovation and technological advancement in the commercial UAS space will find a home elsewhere in the world. Many of the most innovative UAS advances are already happening abroad, not in the United States. If the United States is to be a leader in the development of UAS technologies, the FAA must open the American skies to innovation.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Expert Commentary

Jun 12, 2016

A pro-innovation FAA could propel us out of our aviation stagnation overnight. More vague statements and delays will push the development of affordable supersonic transport even further out into the future—a future that seemed just around the corner over half a century ago.
Feb 17, 2016

We have not experienced the transformative changes in aviation that are so common in information technology. It’s not fair to lay all of the blame for this stagnation at the feet of the FAA—but it’s fair to place a good deal of it there.
Jan 12, 2016

With his last State of the Union address tonight, President Barack Obama has much to look back on over his past 8 years in office. Our experts have taken this time to reflect on some of the highlights he might bring up in his speech tonight.
Nov 12, 2015

Officials at the Federal Aviation Administration estimate that up to a million drones will be sold this holiday season, and it's making them very nervous. Let's face it: Some of these drone recipients — possibly even a few Vox readers — are likely to do something stupid with their new toys in the next few months.
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