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New law would give the Feds the right to shoot down private drones

Posted at 9:41 AM, Sep 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-24 11:41:34-04

The federal government may soon have the authority to shoot down private commercial drones flying inside the U.S.

The 1,200-page FAA Reauthorization Bill posted by the House early Saturday morning includes a section titled “Preventing Emerging Threats” that would give the Department of Homeland Security and FBI the right to track and down drones they deem as a “credible threat” to a “covered facility or asset.”

In August, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked for the green light to down drones in a letter to the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, R.-Texas. She said federal law enforcement needed the authority to fight back against the growing threat from drones inside the U.S. “The threat is real,” she wrote. “Commercially available drones can be employed by terrorists and criminals to drop explosive payloads, deliver harmful substances, disrupt communications, and conduct illicit surveillance.”
Critics say the language in the bill doesn’t define credible threats or areas where drones could be taken down, and that the federal government may now be able to circumvent current federal laws that limit surveillance.
Image: Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen addresses the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Cybersecurity Summit. Bebeto Matthews / AP

Under current Title 18 Wiretap laws, federal law enforcement officials cannot intercept communications without a warrant except in the case of an emergency, and even then they are required to ask the courts for approval after the fact.

The new legislation, however, would permit federal authorities to monitor and track the unmanned aircraft without prior consent, including by intercepting or accessing other means of electronic communications used to control the drone.

The senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union warns the proposed law would expand warrantless surveillance and could interfere with press freedom.