The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice could get the authority to shoot down drones.
Legislation unveiled on Sept. 22 could grant the DHS the ability to “track,” “disrupt,” “control,” and “seize or otherwise confiscate” any drone that the government deems to be a “threat” without needing a warrant or due process.
The language is a part of a larger bill called H.R. 302, to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. The House is slated to vote on the measure as early as Wednesday, with a Senate vote expected this week as well, according to Bloomberg.
The FAA’s current authorization expires on Sept. 30.
Giving the government authority to shoot down drones could potentially prevent situations such as the attempted drone attack earlier this year on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The bill has the support of some major players in the unmanned vehicle space, including AUVSI, which bills itself as the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics.
“By granting authority to government agencies to mitigate threats, they can quickly act to stop them,” said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI, in a prepared statement. “Stricter enforcement against careless, reckless and other potentially malicious behavior will not only punish operators who misuse UAS technology but deter others from doing so.”
But the bill is also opposed by groups such as the National Press Photographers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Opponents say the bill’s language is too broad and could give the government authority to shoot down drones that are flown for legitimate reasons.
The EFF cited journalists using drones to document abuses at detention centers as one example of how drones could be shot down.
“The Department of Homeland Security routinely denies reporters access to detention centers. On the rare occasions DHS does allow entry, the visitors are not permitted to take photos or record video. Without other ways to report on these activities, drones have provided crucial documentation of the facilities being constructed to hold children.”
This bill aside, it is otherwise illegal to shoot down drones.
“Regardless of the situation, shooting at any aircraft — including unmanned aircraft — poses a significant safety hazard,” the FAA told Forbes in 2016, citing 18 U.S.C. 32. “An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air.”
Under Title 18 Wiretap laws, the government cannot intercept communications without a warrant except in the case of an emergency, and even then they are required to ask the courts for approval after the fact, according to NBC. But this new legislation would permit federal authorities to monitor and track drones without prior consent, including by intercepting them in flight.