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.


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

Press release – 1/6/14 – Unmanned aircraft coming to New York

On Jan. 6, 2014, Rep. Hanna announced that as part of his efforts in the Drone Caucus, Griffis International Airport in Rome, NY will become a testing site for unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones.

Image of potential private drone abuses

The deal also involves drones in Massachusetts, and between the 2 States a total of $700 million in tax revenues are projected to be raised, over an unspecified time period. Estimates are that some 1300 jobs will be created throughout New York due to this deal.

Michael Vasquez, candidate for the NY 22nd Congressional District of which Rome, NY is part of, commented on the news,

“I am always happy to hear of opportunities to create jobs in New York, especially in the NY-22. We need to bring in new industries to help the State shed the title of least business friendly in the nation, while helping our nation as well as our constituents.

Still, I hesitate only in the fact that the rush to create 1300 jobs via drones, less than a tenth of a percent of the State unemployment, is not accompanied by responsible legislation to ensure that the use of drones is not abused as we have seen is the case with many Government agencies lately.”

Candidate Vasquez went on to state,

“While I commend the Drone Caucus for its efforts to bring decent wage jobs to Americans that are needed, as most of the NY-22 is in need of, the failure to create legislation over the past 3 years to ensure the privacy and 4th Amendment rights of those same Americans is a mission only half-done, in my opinion.”

To date there has been no legislation passed that addresses the use of drones domestically, and no legislation sponsored by Rep. Hanna to address this concern. Ryan Calo (assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law) has said, “There’s very little in American privacy law that would limit the use of drones for surveillance.”

Candidate Michael Vasquez interviewed by Bob Joseph of WNBF News Radio on 11/19/13

The following is the unedited audio of the interview that was on-air 11/19/13 at 9:30am. This was made into 2 videos due to time constraints of Youtube, no other change has been made.

Candidate Michael Vasquez interviewed by Bob Joseph of WNBF News Radio – part 1

Covers: Flip-flops by politicians, Government shutdown, Obamacare, reasons for running for election

Candidate Michael Vasquez interviewed by Bob Joseph of WNBF News Radio – part 2

Covers: 4th Amendment, drones (unmanned aerial systems), donations and fundraising, Obamacare fixes

Drones: Are .003% more jobs in NY worth your 4th Amendment Rights?

Without question the nation is in need of an economic boost. Even moreso is the fact that New York State is in need of an industry to provide new jobs. The Obama Stimulus and “green” jobs have failed to be the homeruns they were promised to become. Fracking remains bogged down in reviews and delays, with heaps of media fed bias and real concerns of the citizenry mixing to halt any progress that might be attained from that venture. Where is the answer? What are we as citizens willing to give up for any forward momentum?

Into this quandary comes the question of drones. Unmanned aerial systems are poised to be a reality in the skies over the nation, implemented by 2015 under guidelines at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the industry can create some $13 billion in revenues and roughly 70,000 jobs nationwide.

At this time, Rep. Richard Hanna (NY-22) is advocating bringing that industry to New York State. He is a member of the Unmanned Systems Caucus, along with Rep. Anne Marie Buerkle (NY-25) and Rep. Andy Harris (NY-25). They believe that some 2,000 jobs could be created – helping to fulfill the projections of 10,000 drones in US airspace in 10 years.

In a State that is the least business friendly in the nation, in Counties that exceed the official national unemployment rate (7.5%) by no less than 1.5%, in some Counties reaching 10% unemployment, every new job is a boon. Yet there is a question that is not being asked. Are we selling a portion of our individual freedoms for a few dollars and a couple of jobs?

On the pro side of unmanned aerial systems there are the benign uses: traffic control and offense punishment (running red lights, seeing potential traffic jams and diverting cars to alternate routes); fighting fires (bringing supplies to firefighters and tactics humans cannot enact); monitoring landfills and inspecting bridges or buildings for structural damage; install and potential repair of dangerous or hard to reach equipment; and so on.

But the negative side is just as dangerous to individual freedoms as are the benefits useful. It takes the concept to the British CCTV and magnifies it. As Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa states

“Just because the government may comply with the Constitution does not mean they should be able to constantly surveil, like Big Brother.”

Already Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) is seeking protections, and he is not alone. The consensus among many is that, as Ryan Calo (assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law) summarized, “There’s very little in American privacy law that would limit the use of drones for surveillance.”

It’s not just the use by Government that is at issue, but the private use as well. Corporations, drug dealers, and other criminals potential abuse of drones remains unforeseeable at this time. Applications of drones to determine if a home is occupied for a thief to break in, data mining by corporations, evading police raids, arson, peeping tom invasions of privacy, even murder are all on the table. None of which is in the realm of the FAA jurisdiction. None of which is addressed by current law.

Thus, we should wonder if the push to bring drone testing sites to New York is the boon that it is being made out to be. The 4th Amendment states, in part,

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

Domestic drone use can violate this – whether that violation is by the Government, law authorities (Federal, State and local), or your neighbor.

Perhaps, before New York State claims the title of a drone testing site and helps to proliferate unmanned aerial systems uses, the limits of this new tool for surveillance should be created. Perhaps a touch of the same desire for protections being demanded for the ground 2000 feet below us should be injected to this matter. Perhaps the .003% boost in employment can be delayed in the interest of the 4th Amendment.

At the very least, constituents should be involved with the discussion, so that their Representatives actually represent them.

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