A proposal for a new U.S. law will provide the federal government the authority and ability to shoot down or hack private drones.
The House on Saturday posted a 1,200 page FAA Reauthorization Bill which included a section titled “Preventing Emerging Threats.” as reported by NBC News. This proposed bill will let the FBI and Department of Homeland Security legally track drones that pose a “credible threat” to a “covered facility or asset.” A “covered facility or asset” is viewed as a “high risk and potential target for unmanned aircraft activity.” This law would give federal authorities the ability to track drones with no prior consent and intercept the drone itself, or use other electronic communications to control it, like hack into it and change its path.
The bill is slated to go on the House floor for vote on Wednesday. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions would work with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to determine what can be called “credible threat”. If the bill passes in the House, it is expected to go to the Senate next week for vote.
Under current laws, federal officials are not allowed to intercept communications without a warrant. Except for emergency occasions, however even in those cases, the courts must give approval after the incident.
The bill has been opposed collectively by the National Press Photographers Association, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union claiming that the language in it encourages broad interpretation. They claim it would allow the government to hack into, collect information from, and destroy drones with no warning.
“These provisions give the government virtually a free hand for surveillance, seizure, or even shooting down a drone out of the sky — whether owned by journalists or commercial entities — with no oversight or due process. They grant new powers to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to spy on Americans without a warrant,” senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union Neema Singh Guliani said. She warns the proposed law would expand warrantless surveillance and could interfere with press freedom.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies have quietly been using their own drones for surveillance. Last year, Boston police spent $17,454 on three drones for surveillance purposes in a predominately black and low-income neighbourhood as reported by Kade Crockford, the director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen remarked “DHS doesn’t have clear legal authority to identify, track or take down dangerous drones. We can’t even test defensive measures in civilian environments.” The Secret Service is currently the only agency with limited authority to defend against drone aircraft. The legislation also proposed arming drones with cameras and facial recognition technology.
The bill a part of the legislative package released by House and Senate leaders on Sept. 22 and includes reauthorizations of the Transportation Security Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. The House is set to vote on the package on Sept. 26.