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The US federal government may soon have the authority to shoot down private commercial drones flying inside the U.S. An Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Reauthorization Bill was recently posted by the House of Representatives, letting the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the right to shoot down drones that are deemed “credible threats” to a “facility or asset” covered by the bill.
This past August, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked for authorization to down drones in a letter to the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul. Nielsen said federal law enforcement needed the authority to fight back against the growing threat from drones inside the U.S. “The threat is real,” she wrote. “Commercially available drones can be employed by terrorists and criminals to drop explosive payloads, deliver harmful substances, disrupt communications, and conduct illicit surveillance.”
While “credible threats” is yet to be defined, a “covered facility or asset” is defined as something that shows a “high risk and potential target for unmanned aircraft activity.”
The fact that the bill doesn’t define credible threats or areas where drones could be taken down can mean that the U.S. federal government may now be able to circumvent current federal laws that limit surveillance.
The new legislation, in contrast to current legislation, would permit federal authorities to monitor and track the unmanned aircraft without prior consent, including by intercept or accessing other means of electronic communications used to control the drone. Such drones could be owned by any private commercial entity, even journalist drones.
With prominent privacy concerns, A House Homeland Security Committee aide says lawmakers worked to ensure the bill wouldn’t threaten freedoms of Americans. “We really are sensitive to these privacy concerns,” the aide said, explaining that the intercept technology is only specific to drones and cannot be used to listen in on all electronic communications, as reported by nbcnews.com
With more than one million drones now registered with the FAA in the U.S., laws surrounding the operation of the unmanned aircraft have struggled to keep up with use. Not only would the new law allow DHS and the FBI to seize or destroy drones, but they would also be able to disable them by hacking into them and taking control of their flight path.
Interestingly, the U.S. military has used this same technology overseas for years. In certain cases the U.S. military can tap into an enemy drone’s frequency and take control of the aircraft, directing it away from U.S. troops and allies.