The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is asking Congress to pass new legislation that would allow the agency to surveil, research, seize and destroy airborne drones or unmanned aerial systems in the National Airspace. In a written testimony, Hayley Chang, DHS Deputy General Counsel said that today the U.S. Government is: “unable to effectively counter malicious use of drones because we are hampered by federal laws enacted years before UAS technology was available for commercial and consumer use.”

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Government wants power to surveil, research, seize and destroy drones

The new bipartisan bill, S.2836, is titled “Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018.” has been put forth to increase the government’s powers to surveil, research, seize and destroy drones that are considered “threats”.

DHS Deputy General Counsel Hayley Chang said in her written testimony that terrorists have used drones to conduct attacks. As of yet, there have not been any terrorist drone attacks on U.S. soil but she calls the potential for such an act a “very serious, looming threat that we are currently unprepared to confront.”

According to Chang, old laws, that were created before drones became widely popular and available, such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Aircraft Sabotage Act have been “interpreted in new ways” and make it illegal for the Department of Homeland Security to test drone jamming technologies. Chang said that:

“Because the technology use is illegal, we are not permitted under our rules to purchase equipment that’s illegal to use. So we can’t test it,”

Gizmodo reports that Republican Committee Chairman Ron Johnson noted during the hearing that suspicious drone flights have increased from eight incidents in 2013 to about 1,752 incidents in 2016.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is not pleased with the new powers the government is seeking. They argue in a letter submitted to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee that the new bill would provide the government with too much power.

“While the potential security threat posed by drones is real and the need to protect certain facilities is legitimate, strong checks and balances to protect property, privacy, and First Amendment rights are vital,” the ACLU writes. “S.2836 lacks such measures. The bill amounts to an enormous unchecked grant of authority to the government to forcefully remove drones from the sky in nebulous security circumstances.

The ACLU claims that the language in the new law is too broad and would allow the government to seize or destroy drones, “including in cases they are operated by a non-malicious actor like a hobbyist, commercial entity, or journalist.”

You can read the full text of the Senate bill S.2836 here.

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Photo: A sign at a downtown city park informs people the area is a no drone zone in San Diego, California, U.S., May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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