Proposed Senate law to criminalize dangerous drone use

law dangerous drones

A trio of US Senators has launched a bipartisan effort to create comprehensive federal law that will specifically criminalize most forms of dangerous drone use, from terror and trafficking activity to interfering with public responders to emergencies.

The aisle-spanning initiative by Senators Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Senate Judiciary Committee member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) seeks to both tighten existing laws on dangerous drone operation and close legal gaps that don’t specify explicit criminal intent in some cases. The introduction of the “Drone Act of 2022” comes after not only the proliferation of private use of UAV by enthusiasts and blossoming services provided by companies, but also high-profile cases of criminals adopting the aerial tech.

Illegal deployment of drones has been rising on the US southern border, according to reports, particularly by human traffickers using the craft to avoid detection by patrols as they sneak groups of people across. Activity has also been increasing among Mexican drug cartels and their northern partners to ferry narcotics into the US with little risk of detection ­– and even less of being caught. Adaptation of the craft by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel last month to drop bombs on rival groups in Michoacán also caught the attention of politicians and law enforcement officials.

“From the southern border to cities across the country, criminals are using drones to smuggle drugs, weapons, and commit crimes that put Americans at risk,” said Cassidy. “We must confront this new threat.”

Authorities have also taken serious note of modifications being made to UAVs by other criminal and militant groups around the globe, which have sought to fire weapons from quadcopters. Closer to home, alarm was raised the apparent effort in November to provoke what the FBI described as an attempted “short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines” at a Pennsylvania power station. That artisanal effort using a simple store-bought retail drone, dangling a loop of copper cabling beneath it, which could have created outsized destruction.

Other kinds of home-grown misuse or reckless operation of drones have also motivated the bill.

“From my years serving in the Navy, I know firsthand the power drone technology offers,” said Kelly. “In the wrong hands, it can pose security risks, which is why Senator Grassley and I are introducing the Drone Act to stop the illegal use of drones, like for drug trafficking, and to increase penalties for the most serious crimes. It’s critical that we give law enforcement the tools to accomplish its mission of keeping our communities safe and our borders secure against criminal organizations.”

Concerned current law does not cover many specific types of dangerous drone activity, the bill both expands the extant list of criminal offenses and makes them punishable with a $250,000 fine or a prison sentence. 

Among additional prohibitions included is attaching a firearm, explosive, or other dangerous weapon to a drone; using UAVs to cause serious bodily injury or death to a person or damage to property; interfering with law-enforcement or emergency responder activity; transporting contraband; and flying a craft across the US border.

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