House drone threat mitigation bill avoids more ambitious proposals

bill drone threats

Moves are afoot in Congress to pass legislation replacing existing laws expiring October 5 authorizing the identification and mitigation of drones posing security threats. Yet a new House of Representatives bill aiming to do that reportedly falls well short of the robust proposals circulated by the White House earlier this year.

According to Bloomberg Government, which said it obtained the text of bipartisan H.R. 8949, the bill to amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and its 2018 enlargement is closer to a renewal of existing measures for battling drone threats than an embrace of the White House Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan released in April. 

It similarly shies away from a more expansive draft law introduced in the Senate in July to take on what political leaders consider the rising potential threats by drones to passenger airline traffic, in criminal deployment by people and drug traffickers, and possible use in attacks. 

Those concerns have been echoed by the National Football LeagueMajor League Baseball, NCAA, and NASCAR, which have lobbied for the enlargement of counter-UAV capacities to keep pace with the rising number of drones in the skies – and potential threats those pose.

Read moreNFL voices drone fears as counter-UAV legislation nears expiration 

Supporters of the White House plan will be disappointed by the caution reflected in the House bill on drone threats, which Bloomberg Government attributed to “lawmakers in that chamber (not being) comfortable with broader measures at this time.”

The current legislation allows the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to intercept drones operating illegallyposing threats, or possibly seeking to do harm – usually by hacking into their control system. 

Read: Intrusive drones defy airspace bans at NFL, NCAA football games in Seattle

Inspired by the ambitious White House proposal, Senate bill 4687 would permit “any State, local, Tribal, or territorial law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice, the Department, and any owner or operator of an airport or critical infrastructure (to) authorize personnel, with assigned duties that include the safety, security, or protection of people, facilities, or assets, to use equipment authorized under this subsection to take actions… that are necessary to detect, identify, monitor, or track an unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft within the respective areas of responsibility or jurisdiction of the authorized personnel.”

Read moreWhite House seeks to enlarge actors authorized to track and zap suspect drones 

The House bill introduced last Thursday – which will now be referred to a trio of committees for examination ­– is described as maintaining current measures, and moderately widening the range of Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security officials permitted to order action against drones considered threats. At the same time, Bloomberg Government says it also requires federal officials to report on how they “address privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties issues” in responding to potentially menacing UAVs.

In addition, the draft law would oblige those agencies to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure action and tech used to mitigate threatening drones won’t interfere with activity by traditional aircraft. 

It being very unlikely Congress could move fast enough to pass, then reconcile different bills in the respective chambers to vote into law before October 5 – especially with midterm elections looming in November – legislators are expected to attach text provisionally extending the 2018 measures to stopgap budget motion scheduled for introduction this week.

Photo: Spencer Davis/Unsplash

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