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Can the Pros of Domestic Drones Outweigh the Pitfalls?

Congress passed a law in 2012 containing a seven-page provision requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fully integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace by September 2015. Currently, the FAA bans the use of drones for commercial purposes, but hobbyists are allowed to fly small drones.

“Congress passed the 2012 FAA Modernization Act to put the sights into play to see how we can actually articulate and see what we can do with this and have a transparent discussion about what its applications are and what are the rules and regulations that govern it,” Gosar said.

Gosar also said the conversation surrounding the use of drones within U.S. territory must involve the American public and the Constitution should be the touchstone for figuring out the application of this new technology.

“The Constitution is a brilliantly simple articulated message which you can break down into simple parts…it all starts with personal responsibility and personal accountability and I think once you break down the Constitution in that framework it’s very easy to have an application,” he said.

The FAA anticipates at least 30,000 of these aircraft in the domestic skies by 2020. Many states have started to introduce legislation to regulate drone use, as the domestic drone industry continues to grow.

Eighty-five drone-related bills have been introduced in 39 states so far this year, as reported by Politico. Virginia in February imposed a two-year moratorium on drone aircraft. Idaho passed this month a law prohibiting spying by drones without the consent of the people kept under surveillance. Most of the measures require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before a drone can be used in an investigation, except under specific circumstances, such as life-threatening cases.

As part of the regulatory process, the FAA will pick six sites around the country for UAV testing. The sites are to be selected by the end of the year.

Arizona has become a hub for U.S. military drone operations and defense contractors. The state is vying to become one of the six UAV test ranges the federal government will designate. Gosar, a member of the U.S. House Unmanned Systems Caucus, asserted he is “perfectly situated to be sitting at the table to have these discussions” about the commercial and defense capabilities of drones because of his state’s border issue and its strong defense industry presence.

The caucus, formed in 2009 by Reps. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), has worked closely with the drone lobby to support the industry and “rapidly develop and deploy” more of these systems in the U.S.

According to Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with First Street Research Group, the 58 drone caucus members received a total of 2.3 million dollars in contributions from political action committees affiliated with drone manufacturers since 2011. Members of the caucus have collected around $1 million in campaign contributions from top drone manufacturers during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, according to campaign finance data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“I see from behind the scenes that most of my colleagues are having this conversation with their constituents. We’re going to flesh out some of these things shortly in regards to where the test sites are, what are the applications, what are we going to allow the FAA, the military, and the commercial applications to do,” said Gosar.