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Terminator Stage One: Drone Makers Lobbying Congress to Open Skies for Surveillance

Even the celebrity gossip site TMZ is actively seeking to use drones

By Gary Martin
Houston Chronical

Are unmanned aircraft, known to have difficulty avoiding collisions, safe to use in America’s crowded airspace? And would their widespread use for surveillance result in unconstitutional invasions of privacy?

Experts say neither question has been answered satisfactorily. Yet the federal government is rushing to open America’s skies to tens of thousands of the drones – pushed to do so by a law championed by manufacturers of the unmanned aircraft.

The 60-member House of Representatives‘ “drone caucus” – officially, the House Unmanned Systems Caucus – has helped push that agenda. And over the last four years, caucus members have drawn nearly $8 million in drone-related campaign contributions, an investigation by Hearst Newspapers and the Center for Responsive Politics shows.

Interactive: See who donated and which companies received money

Video: See animation of a drone

The Federal Aviation Administration has been flooded with applications from police departments, universities, private corporations and even the celebrity gossip site TMZ, all seeking to use drones that range from devices the size of a hummingbird to full-sized aircraft like those used by the U.S. military to target al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and elsewhere.

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