The White House wants more powers to crack down on rogue drones

Drones are being used to commit crimes, conduct illegal surveillance and industrial espionage, warns US government.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The White House has laid out its plans to give more authorities the power to respond to nefarious drone activity.

The administration says while drones – or unmanned aircraft systems (USA) – have become useful for research, recreation and business, they've also become risks to public safety, privacy and homeland security. 

"Malicious actors have increasingly used UAS domestically to commit crimes, conduct illegal surveillance and industrial espionage, and thwart law enforcement efforts at the local, state and federal level," it warns.

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To address the risks of rogue UAS, the White House wants to broaden powers of federal agencies that can already use technology to counter or neutralize bad drones, and expand authorization of the use of drone-detection technology, such as RF jammers, below the federal level.

The White House has called on Congress to enact legislation outlined in the administration's eight-point Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan "to close critical gaps in existing law and policy" that impede counter-rogue drone capabilities. 

The plan seeks to "expand where we can protect against nefarious UAS activity, who is authorized to take action, and how it can be accomplished lawfully," the White House said in a statement.     

The plan seeks to expand the existing counter-UAS powers available to Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice, Defense, State, the Central Intelligence Agency and NASA "in limited situations". 

It also wants to authorize the use of UAS detection technology for state and local and, notably, for critical infrastructure owners and operators. Currently, non-federal entities need to seek assistance from authorized entities like DHS to respond to a drone threat.    

To avoid detection activity disrupting airspace and communications spectrum, the plan calls for the creation of a US government authorized-detection equipment list. It also wants a federal UAS incident-tracking database for departments and agencies to see the overall domestic threat. 

Commercial drones have caused several public safety incidents in recent years. Ahead of the Christmas break in 2018, hundreds of flights were cancelled at London's Gatwick Airport following reports of a drone sighting near the airport: researchers found a drone striking an aircraft could create structural damage to parts of a wing

A year later, the UK government funded 18 counter-drone and drone technology projects overseen by the UK's Ministry of Defence. 

NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) in November tested 70 counter-drone systems that track and neutralize drones. One of them used a NATO-controlled drone "hunter" to track another drone and cast a net on the target to bring it down.   

In the US, per Associated Press, Newark Liberty International Airport halted all landings in January 2019 after a drone sighting nearby. In 2015, drones crashed on the White House grounds in two separate incidents, prompting calls for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to regulate recreational drone use. 

Today, the FAA requires recreational drone operators to register their identity with the FAA if the aircraft is 55 pounds or heavier. About 1.14 million recreational owners registered an estimated 1.44 million aircraft in use in December 2020, according to the FAA.

Biden's plan also calls for a comprehensive criminal statute to establish legal and illegal uses of UAS, and to close loopholes in existing federal law, while creating penalties to deter the most serious UAS-related crimes. 

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