US government seeking new powers to counter threatening drones

In May 2018, a bill was introduced in the US Congress under the heading ‘Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018‘, intending to ‘assist the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in preventing emerging threats from unmanned aircraft and vehicles’. The bill would, among others, authorise the DHS or the Department of Justice to take actions necessary to mitigate the threats that drones could pose ‘to the safety and security of a covered facility or asset’. These actions could include detecting, identifying, monitoring and tracking the drone, disrupting control of the drone, seizing or exercising control of the drone, or using reasonable force to disable, damage or destroy it. The bill was subject to a hearing in the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, on 6 June 2018. During the hearing, officials from the US government argued in favour of the bill, noting that ‘the threats posed by malicious drones are too great to ignore’ and expressing concerns that ‘criminals and terrorist will exploit [drones] in ways that pose a serious threat to the safety of American people’. While US authorities advocated in favour of new powers to allow them to counter threatening drones, civil society groups expressed concerns over the bill’s provisions. The Electronic Frontier Foundation noted, for example that ‘many of the bill’s key terms are undefined, but it is clear that it provides extremely broad authority, exempting officials from following procedures that ordinarily govern electronic surveillance and hacking, such as the Wiretap Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act’.