A Trump administration proposal to allow the federal government to track, hack and destroy drones flying in the U.S. is raising eyebrows among some aviation experts.
The proposed new rules, according to a draft of a bill obtained by the New York Times this week, would enable the government to use “reasonable force to disable, disrupt, damage or destroy” drones that pose a threat, and any objects the drones are carrying.
In the past few years, companies specializing in drone countermeasures have begun popping up — and these companies would likely benefit from the proposed legislation. DroneShield, for instance, sells a Dronegun, which is a jammer that can disrupt a drone’s remote control, forcing it to land or return to its starting point. In some European countries there are companies training eagles to take down drones midair.
Dedrone has developed software that can detect drones in the vicinity before they even take off, and its software is already being used in a few prisons and for events, including during the 2016 presidential debate at Hofstra University.
“It’s great that the government is paying attention to this,” said Pablo Estrada, Vice President of Marketing at Dedrone.
“Yesterday DJI announced a consumer drone that operates through hand gestures and can take selfies,” Estrada said in reference to the DJI Spark, which costs $500 and is targeted at consumers. “They are more powerful and you don’t need to be an expert to own one, which just points to the danger of these drones.”
But some legal experts warn the draft bill may run afoul of the Constitution.
“As written, the legislation is dangerously overbroad,” said Loretta Alkalay, aviation attorney and professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics.
While it is currently legal for the government to track drones, the Trump proposal would also make it legal for the government to seize and destroy the drone and search or destroy any data on the drone, without a warrant.
Under the Fourth Amendment, it is illegal for the government to search computers or portable electronic devices, or to seize them for further examination somewhere else without a warrant.
Alkalay says the legislation would also “remove a drone operator’s right to sue the government if their drone or drone data is destroyed, even if the destruction was improper.”
Aviation attorney Jonathan Rupprecht says the intent of the bill is on target and a “good step in the right direction.” But, he said, “how in the world does this jive with the U.S. Constitution?”