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Drones can be a unifying bipartisan issue across a chasm of differences

I have written consistently about the potentials for unmanned aerial aircraft, commonly called drones, both as a positive and a negative. It is an issue I have been speaking about in interviews and in articles such as back in May 2013. Recent developments have made the discussion even more timely and of concern.

After 3 years of legislative effort, Rep. Hanna – my opponent – succeeded in having New York State designated as a testing zone for drones targeted to be used domestically by U.S. Agencies and local level authorities. The new testing zones touted by my opponent are part of a 2017 directive from the FAA that will ensure widespread use across the nation. But, the push for drones by the Drone Caucus (which includes Rep. Hanna) omits a critical point. The very question that was posed to FBI Director Mueller, how are drones being used, elicited, in part, this response

“…we’re exploring not only the use, but the necessary guidelines for that use.” – FBI Director Robert Mueller to Congress on 6/19/13

This of course flies in the face of evidence, reported by the L.A. Times in September 2013, that drones have been used since 2006. Thus, based on testimony given to Congress, either the FBI, DEA, and other agencies have been using drones in a roguish cowboy manner or their actual use is being kept from the American people and Congress. Pick whichever choice you like, but the result is that abuse is likely rampant and unchecked – because there is,

“There’s very little in American privacy law that would limit the use of drones for surveillance.” – Ryan Calo, assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law

Thus several members of Congress, including Republicans outside of the Drone Caucus, have sought to spend the last several years trying to pass legislation to limit the domestic use of drones. This includes: Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis), Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-TX), Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and others.

This has led me to observe the following, which was printed Jan. 16, 2014 in the Utica Observer Dispatch

“[Rep. Hanna] has put 700,000 constituents, plus the nation, at risk of future abuse and privacy intrusions — all because he failed to submit a single bill to protect the public.

That’s a job half done.”

But the issue does not stop there. As divisive as modern politics can be, as polarizing as mid-term elections always are, restricting the abuse of drones has become a unifying bipartisan legislative agenda, at least in part of the country. Most recently, in South Carolina, the State House unanimously passed H3514 – which would restrict the use of drones, preventing situations like that of the FBI.

The domestic use of drones is quickly becoming a national issue. It has bipartisan support. But it faces those Representatives, at the Federal level, that refused to restrict the NSA from arbitrarily targeting innocent Americans, and collecting their private data. It’s no surprise that those that voted against supporting the Amash Amendment have failed on similar measures to protect constituents from domestic drones.

It will be either gratifying, or terrifying, to see the outcome on domestic drone use. Political lines are being blurred for the sake of protecting the 4th Amendment, and the real question is if those that have only done half their job will have the political courage to stand by and for constituents on preventing abuses before they occur.

Sincerely

Michael Vasquez
Candidate for the NY-22 Congressional seat, 2014

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