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Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BURGESS. Mr. Chairman, there has been a lot of discussion about the use of unmanned aircraft, commonly referred to as drones, in United States airspace, and rightfully so.

Beginning with the FAA reauthorization bill which passed this House earlier in the year, the expansion of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the continental United States was expanded. Arguably, this was a useful expansion because we have vast areas of our border which are difficult to monitor. Sometimes there are search and rescue occurrences that happen in rough terrain where an unmanned aerial vehicle may be indispensable. But since that time, there has been a growing body of people who have been concerned about the effect of allowing these unmanned aerial vehicles the ability to surveil citizens. There has also been talk about the EPA using it to monitor herd size and the grazing habits of farmers. These are questions that are going to need to be answered. But in recent weeks, I have become aware of some discussion that in certain police jurisdictions they were talking about an army of unmanned aerial vehicles to assist in law enforcement.

Maybe that's something that's worthwhile to consider, but I can't help but feel that a step taken that far is something that this body should consider. While I appreciate the subcommittee chairman's concern about legislating on an appropriations bill, we're in new territory. We're in uncharted territory, and this amendment is a first-aid maneuver. It is to place a bandage, if you will, on a growing problem to see if we can't stop and have the discussion before the Secretary spends money authorizing the use of armed unmanned aerial vehicles.

No one disputes in war zones and in battle space the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle. An armed unmanned aerial vehicle is incredibly useful. No one argues the utility of these unmanned aircraft in that situation. All I would say is that before we allow that to be occurring in our backyards, on our highways and byways, we need to consider the effects of that. Are we, in fact, ensuring the constitutional rights of the people who not just are being surveilled, but who may be being controlled by the armaments that would be present in these weaponized vehicles?

My amendment would prevent the Secretary of Transportation, the head of the FAA, from approving any application to use an unmanned aircraft in the United States airspace for the purpose of arming or weaponizing that aircraft. It does not affect the surveillance question. So surveillance drone applications certainly, if they are authorized, may go forward. Nor does it affect weaponized drones that are operating outside the United States airspace.

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. It is the old argument of sacrificing safety for security, and ultimately achieving neither objective.

I think this is an amendment that would be well advised by this body to consider this evening. I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of it if it is allowed to stand, and I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. BURGESS. Here is the problem.

It was a simple line in the FAA reauthorization bill. We were all happy when we reauthorized the FAA. It hadn't been done in some 26 attempts--``the dog ate my homework,'' we got IOUs and extensions on the FAA. But then here was 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. They are concerned about privacy, and they're concerned about Federal agencies surveilling normal activities of commerce in which people may be engaged. But then we have gone one step further.

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.

All I'm asking is that we take all due care and caution, and exercise all due care and caution. We are entering a Brave New World here, and it is incumbent upon every one of us to be certain we do so with all care and caution before we proceed.

I appreciate the gentleman allowing me to express my thoughts on this amendment. I wish it could stand. I wish we could vote on it this evening. I understand for consistency why he is insisting on his point of order. But we're going to have to revisit this.

H.R. 5950 is standalone legislation that would prohibit this activity. I encourage Members of Congress to look into cosponsoring that.


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