Unmanned Systems

Congress looks to arm DHS, DOJ against drones

drone by barbed wire fence (Kletr/Shutterstock.com) 

The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill up before the House includes a controversial provision that would give the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice authority to intercept and even destroy drones in flight.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen cited the lack of such authority as a dangerous policy gap in an August speech and said a legislative update was one of the agency's top priorities.

"DHS doesn't have clear legal authority to identify, track or take down dangerous drones," she said in her remarks. "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.

However, the bill's provision to authorize DHS and DOJ to deal with drone-borne threats is proving controversial among privacy and civil rights advocates, who worry the new authorities would be subject to abuse.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement that including the authorities in a routine reauthorization bill squelches the opportunity to debate how to limit government's ability to intercept and destroy unmanned aerial vehicles.

Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative council for the American Civil Liberties Union said that the provisions, "give the government virtually carte blanche to surveil, seize, or even shoot a drone out of the sky -- whether owned by journalists or commercial entities -- with no oversight or due process."

The bill is included in a legislative package released by House and Senate leaders on Sept. 22 that 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.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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