When most people heard about an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), or “drone,” for the first time, it was almost solely in the context of military strategy. It doesn’t seem very long ago that this technology seemed exclusively military-grade and too hyper-advanced to concern the average American.
But, we live in fast times.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules have been relaxed in recent years. In fact, the program’s last re-authorization even acknowledged the field was rapidly advancing unpredictably, which would necessitate new oversight. And sure enough, in a few short years drones have rapidly integrated into our everyday lives.
Delivery companies like Amazon want them, energy companies want them to monitor multi-acre pipelines and wind farms, and scaled down versions are even sought after for recreation. These adaptations are similar to the after-effects of any groundbreaking technology, and aren’t threatening in and of themselves.
However, local police agencies across the country are increasingly requesting FAA approval to deploy drones. Most could have reasonable intentions, but some departments are seeking to arm drones with tear gas, rubber bullets, and other riot control-like projectiles. The first local police to show interest were in my home state of Texas and, since, interest has become more widespread in nationwide local departments.
What’s worse is that federal law enforcement seems to be complicit. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is entertaining the idea of deploying drones with drug sensing capabilities. Meanwhile, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) directly contradicts their own mission statement by carrying out drone strikes abroad.
This path is unacceptable.
Before drones become a widespread staple of local law enforcement, we owe it to ourselves to have a national discussion. We need the chance to answer the serious questions that drones pose before we go down a path we can’t reverse.
These questions hit at the very core of our nation’s most cherished principles of personal privacy and freedom from oppression.
Our founders laid the foundation for a society where the use of military tactics by agents of our justice system really has no place. In that context, I believe that free citizens are innocent unless proven guilty, and that they aren’t to be treated as suspects, or terrorists, while going about their everyday lives.
Don’t confuse the matter. Drones are a legitimate tactical benefit to those in contested regions – like our soldiers fighting overseas or the agents working to secure our borders.
But, arming a remote-controlled surveillance drone for day-to-day domestic law enforcement is blatantly an over-the-top use of force. There is no reason that any law abiding American should experience that kind of oppression, and I intend to make it so that they won’t have to.
Just last week, I introduced the “No Armed Drones Act (NADA)” to bar the use of armed drones – lethal or non-lethal – against any person or property in the entirety of our national airspace. Even before we can get to having thoughtful discussion on many of the issues surrounding drones, it is of the utmost importance that we start those talks on an even surface that doesn’t include armed, unmanned, flying police aircraft.
This is a constitutional issue, not a partisan one. And I swore to defend our Constitution. So, rest-assured, I will continue fighting to ensure that, before the FAA approves a single drone for local policing or our federal agencies create a surveillance state full of citizens who constantly look over their shoulders, we as a nation have the opportunity to choose liberty in this dynamic age of innovation.