NEWS: Will the US Government Be Able to “Track, Hack, and Destroy” Any Drone?

According to draft legislation distributed to several congressional committees, the government wants the power to “track, hack, and destroy” any drone that might pose a threat to security.

The document was uncovered by the New York Times, who says that “The Trump administration is asking Congress to give the federal government sweeping powers to track, hack and destroy any type of drone over domestic soil with a new exception to laws governing surveillance, computer privacy and aircraft protection…”

The proposal is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which has not yet been made public.  The bill seems to be a response to fears that drones could be used by terrorists to carry out attacks on secured areas.  The document acknowledges that destruction of drones “may be construed to be illegal under certain laws” and proposes that a changes be made to allow the government to use “countermeasures” to manage the threat.

The document lays out four actions that the government could take:

  • “Detect, identify, monitor, or track, without prior consent, an unmanned aircraft system…or payload, or cargo, to evaluate whether it poses a threat to the safety or security of a covered facility, location… including by means of interception of or other access to wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications or signals…”
  • “Redirect, disable, disrupt control of, exercise control of, seize, or confiscate, without prior consent, an unmanned aircraft system…”
  • “Use reasonable force to disable, disrupt, damage, or destroy an unmanned aircraft system…”
  • Conduct research, testing, training on, and evaluation of any equipment including any electronic equipment, to determine its capability and utility…”

In addition, the proposed bill would make any drones and payload seized during the above operations forfeit to the government.

While the proposal is not entirely surprising given recent reports of commercial drones used overseas in terrorist operations, the sweeping nature of the bill is cause for some concern in the industry.  If the government can track and destroy any drone owned by a citizen that it deems a threat, the possibility for misuse or mistakes in the application of the rule may be too high.

The Commercial Drone Alliance, an advocacy group for the commercial industry, issued this response yesterday: “The safety, security and efficiency benefits of commercial drones are great and vast, but policymaking has lagged behind technology. It is therefore critical that the federal government work diligently to integrate drones into our National Airspace System safely and securely. The Commercial Drone Alliance is committed to working with the federal government to do so. As part of this overall effort, we would support an appropriately tailored measure enabling law enforcement to mitigate drone threats. As but one example, we are interested to ensure that such a measure would protect authorized commercial drone flights. We are studying the draft legislation now and look forward to working with lawmakers to ensure that we are able to open the skies to commercial drones in a timely, safe and secure way.”

The Trump administration had no immediate comment on the proposal, which was scheduled to be reviewed by representatives from several security agencies during a closed-door briefing yesterday.

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