Second Thoughts in Congress About Domestic Drones

07.02.12 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Some members of Congress are having second thoughts about the future use of unmanned aerial systems in U.S. airspace, judging from a colloquy on the House floor last week.

When Congress passed the FAA reauthorization bill, recalled Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), it included “this very simple language allowing for the expansion of unmanned aerial vehicles in the national airspace.”

“None of us really thought that was much of a problem, but our constituents are bringing it back to us,” Rep. Burgess said. “They are concerned about privacy, and they’re concerned about Federal agencies surveilling normal activities of commerce in which people may be engaged.”

Looking beyond privacy concerns, Rep. Burgess proposed an amendment to the Transportation Appropriations bill that would prohibit the use of armed drones within the United States.

“If these drones are weaponized, you can–if you’ve been surveilled unfairly, you can go to court and perhaps seek a remedy. But if a bullet is fired from one of these platforms, you don’t have any remedy if you’re the recipient of that bullet,” he said.

“The amendment that I offer today is preemptive. As to my knowledge, no actual applications have been filed with the FAA to use armed drones in U.S. airspace. But I believe it is necessary, as there has been some discussion in the public media about the ability to arm unmanned aerial vehicles. I personally believe this is a road down which we should not travel,” Rep. Burgess said.

However, the amendment was rejected for procedural reasons.

Similar legislation sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) was approved last month as an amendment to the pending Homeland Security Appropriations bill.