Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04) announced last week that she has introduced the Safeguarding America’s Skies Act, which would allow federal authorities “to detect, track, and engage with drones that pose a security risk to agency facilities and assets.”
H.R. 5366 would undo regulations that prevent federal agencies like the Department of Justice or Homeland Security from bringing down drones. Title 18 is the law which makes it illegal to shoot down a drone: it is illegal to willfully damage or destroy aircraft. “Title 18 also prevents federal agencies from using tailored jamming or protocol manipulation to interdict drones because it is considered intruding on a ‘protected computer.'” says Hartzler.
The Department of Defense is already entitled to protect against drones that threaten critical infrastructure. Hartzler’s bill would extend that privilege to the Department of Justice, allowing officers to take action against “unauthorized drones that pose a reasonable threat to the safety and security of certain facilities and assets, including those related to operations that counter terrorism, narcotics, and transnational criminal organizations.”
While the Act is not intended to have an effect on commercial drone operators, it provides some concern that drones performing legitimate missions may be mistaken for a threat and harassed by officials. Certainly, the Congresswoman’s press release emphasizes the risks rather than the benefits of drones:
“Over the last several years, advances in drone technology have provided efficient and effective ways for industries across the board to conduct everyday tasks. However, drone technology is also being exploited to advance crime and threaten our national security. Drones serve as a mode of transportation for illegal drugs crossing the border as well as contraband into prisons,” says Hartzler. “On the other side of the globe, militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have used weaponized consumer drones to target U.S. and coalition partners. It is only a matter of time before similar acts are executed here at home to target U.S. citizens. The Safeguarding America’s Skies Act will provide our federal law enforcement agencies with the necessary tools to mitigate and prevent drone crimes from occurring.”
According to Hartzler’s office, the Safeguarding America’s Skies Act will:
- Amend Title 18 to allow the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to detect, track, redirect, confiscate, or destroy a drone if it poses a security threat to a covered facility or asset.
- Require the agencies to coordinate with the Department of Transportation, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in developing the rules and guidance to carry out this new authority.
- Require the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final regulation requiring remote identification and tracking of drones within one year.
- Require the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to submit an annual report to Congress outlining actions taken to implement and carry out this new authority.
“This is a commonsense bill that will provide much needed relief to the agencies tasked with protecting the homeland. Left unchecked, the nefarious use of drones and drone technology can drastically alter the laws regulating this burgeoning industry, levying burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on drone use. As is typical with government intervention, the pendulum often swings too far. It is necessary to get ahead of this by instituting smart, effective measures to protect against crime while encouraging the future growth of drone technology and availability.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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