Schumer to FAA: Ban Drones from Drug Dealers, Private Investigators

A U.S. Army Specialist performs a preflight inspection on an RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aircraft at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, May 2, 2013.

Americans by now are familiar with the government’s use of drones to kill alleged terrorists—with civilians oftentimes caught in the crosshairs—or as a tool for surveillance, but it’s how some people domestically are using drones that has Sen. Chuck Schumer calling for stricter guidelines.

New York’s senior senator this week penned a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration and Commerce Department calling for a ban on drones used by private investigators and drug dealers and a release of privacy rules and guidelines for private drone use by the end of 2014.

“Confusion over the lack of regulations surrounding drone use is causing problems throughout the country,” Schumer wrote. “There are a number of unregulated small drones throughout New York City, as well as other parts of the state, threatening safety and privacy.”

Schumer cited reports of private investigators spying on couples cheating on each other, people lying about disabilities and others involved in criminal activities. He also mentioned several cases of drug dealers using drones to deliver illegal drugs, a near drone-NYPD helicopter collision over the George Washington Bridge in July, reports of drones flying too close to airports, and a failed attempt by someone using a drone to fly marijuana and cell phones into a South Carolina maximum-security prison. The drone crashed short of the prison, he said.

He blamed a lack of clear rules from the FAA for the “confusion as to what is legal, and the blatant abuses of this great technology.”

“New York City has become the wild, Wild West for commercial and hobby drones,” he said.

Drones are currently used by the U.S. government to aid in military operations overseas and domestically for border patrol operations, disaster relief, search and rescue missions, real estate sales and agriculture.

Currently, the FAA says drones should be flown below 400 feet and a “sufficient distance from populated areas and full scale aircraft.”

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act, passed in 2012, stipulated that the FAA come up with a plan for safe integration of drones by September 2015—a deadline the agency may not meet, according to a recent inspector general’s report, Schumer said.

According to Schumer, President Obama will issue an executive order to have the Commerce Department develop guidelines and best practices for commercial drones.