An aviation bill Congress is pushing to approve has a small-noticed section that would give authorities the right to track, intercept and destroy drones they believe are a security threat, without requiring a judge’s order.
Supporters say government and law enforcement need this capability to protect Americans from terrorists who are learning to use drones as deadly weapons.
They examine the Islamic State terrorist group’s utilization of bomb-carrying drones on battlefields in Iraq, and warn that terrorists may go after civilian targets within the United States.
Critics say the provision would give government agencies unchecked capability to decide when drones are a threat. They say the government could use this technology to restrict drone-camera news coverage of protests or controversial government facilities, such as the new detention centers for young migrants.
The provision is tucked in a huge bill that gives $1.7 billion in disaster relief and authorizes programs in the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates drones.
The House approved the measure Wednesday by the 398-23 vote, as well as the Senate is anticipated pass it on to President Donald Trump’s desk within the coming days. The White House signaled support in the drone provision in July.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, introduced the Preventing Emerging Threats Act in 2010. It would give the Homeland Security Department and also the Justice Department chance to develop and deploy a method to identify, track and shoot down drones, as unmanned aircraft are called. Officers might have the authority to hack a drone operator’s signal and take control from the device.
The bill wasn’t considered alone through the full Senate or perhaps the House. Instead, in private negotiations that ended last weekend, it absolutely was tucked right into a “must-pass” piece of FAA legislation.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote in a recent op-ed the threat of drone attacks “is outpacing our power to respond.” She said criminals use drones to smuggle drugs over the border, but worse, terrorists like the Islamic State are deploying them for the battlefield.
“We must acknowledge which is our first and last resort to stop malicious drones as they approach a target,” she wrote.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement immediately that the measure “would finally give federal law enforcement officials the authority we have to counter the use of drones by drug traffickers, terrorists and criminals.”
The National Football League’s top security executive recently endorsed the bill’s intent but stated it should go further by allowing trained state and federal agencies intercept drones. The official, Cathy Lanier, a Washington, D.C., police chief, said the NFL is alarmed by an increase in drone flyovers at stadiums.
Opponents like the American Civil Liberties Union argue how the proposal gives the us government unchecked power to follow and seize drones regardless of the privacy and free-speech rights of legitimate drone operators. It exempts the federal government agencies from certain laws, including limits on wiretapping.
The bill provides no oversight or means to question a government decision in what can be a “credible threat” and what is an “asset” or “facility” in need of protection when drones are nearby.
News organizations are increasingly using drones. They deploy these to cover earthquakes such as the recent flooding from Hurricane Florence plus controversies including the Trump administration’s construction of recent camps for migrant children have been separated using their parents with the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Being able to see footage of protests, how big is protests, being able to see facilities like those with the border is effective, those are newsworthy events,” said India McKinney, a legislative analyst for that Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Without a specific methods to protect First Amendment rights, something not within the bill, “it’s entirely possible to believe the DOJ or DHS would just choose that a drone owned by a news organization offers a credible threat after which destroys the footage,” she said.