On Sunday August 3, 2014, New York Senator Schumer took the unusual position of standing on the same side as some Republicans in regard to drones. Not only is the stance unusual for the bipartisan nature it displays but also because it addresses an issue that has been cheered as a boon for New York State.
The issue of drones, or unmanned aerial systems, being used domestically is a major issue that has recently taken a back seat to numerous scandals and international crisis. At the core of the drone issue is how will drones be used, and by whom? There are many pros and cons to this question, but there is almost no regulation and many legal scholars believe there is no legislation that addresses the situation.
Currently there is no legislation or regulation limiting the use of drones, though the FAA is in the process of developing guidelines. The Drone Caucus, for its part, has worked diligently to enable several States to begin testing drones for domestic use. New York State was one of the initial States approved for such testing, and will likely create some 1,300 jobs over the coming years.
In the meantime the FBI, DEA, and other parts of the Government have been using drones domestically - some since 2006. How drones have been used by these Agencies is not known. Even when Congress asked FBI director Robert Mueller in 2013 the response was vague, and obfuscated the on-going use of drones
"…we’re exploring not only the use, but the necessary guidelines for that use.” – FBI Director Robert Mueller to Congress on 6/19/13
The result was a call for regulation and legislation. A guideline by which the 4th Amendment freedoms of Americans could be protected, while the Government, corporations, and individuals explored the potential benefits of domestic drone usage. Leading the charge has been Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis), Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-TX), Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA). The issue was also addressed in our article
Drones: Are .003% more jobs in NY worth your 4th Amendment Rights? – repost from 5/27/13 and by then-candidate Michael "Vass" Vasquez (president of M V Consulting, Inc),
"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."
It is into this Fray that Sen. Schumer has now tread. As he stated to WHEC
"The Democrat says New York has become "the wild west" for private drones since a court case limited the federal government's ability to regulate the use of the small, remote controlled aircraft."
It should be noted that while the call for regulation has been enjoined by Sen. Schumer, he has restricted his support to the private use of drones. The concern of the Senator is apparently fixated only on how private citizens and corporation might misuse drones. The fact that the FBI has hidden its use of drones for nearly a decade, and the omnipresent revelations of abuses of power from the IRS to NSA, seem to provide Sen. Schumer no pause. To that extent the NY Democrat diverges from Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives, who believe the threat to privacy looms as large from the Government as from any other source.
The very limited position of Sen. Schumer flies in the face of concerns over Government abuse. The concern is so strong that the South Carolina House passed a unanimous bipartisan legislation banning domestic drones without a warrant. In total 40 States have some form of drone legislation passed or pending, and numerous cities have done the same.
Still, it is important and unusual to see such a high profile Democrat join in the Republican-led effort to restrict drones from the "wild west" circus that the lack of legislation has created. We can only hope that Sen. Schumer will eventually also embrace protecting the public from the Government as much as he is currently willing to support the Government.