U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation to enhance the nation’s ability to counter security threats posed by unmanned aircraft system, known as drones.
The bill will renew and expand existing authorities – which are set to expire in September – that provide the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice with tools to counter drones that pose a security threat. Federal law enforcement officials previously told the committee that current authorities are not sufficient to meet the current threat level and Peters’ bill will ensure the federal government is better prepared to defend against maliciously or recklessly operated drones, according to a news release.
“Attacks or accidents caused by unmanned aircraft systems could have catastrophic effects on our national and economic security. Federal agencies must have the tools they need to address this evolving security threat,” said Peters.
The commercial market for drones is rapidly expanding due to the increased accessibility of new technologies. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that by 2024 about 2.3 million drones will be registered to fly in U.S. airspace.
The increasing numbers of registered drones create a higher risk of both unintentional disasters and malicious activity from foreign adversaries or criminal organizations that seek to weaponize drones or engage in illegal activities, such as the trafficking of illicit drugs across U.S. borders.
Last year the White House was partially evacuated after a drone entered restricted air space over Washington, D.C. In 2022, federal officials stopped all arrivals and departures at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport after a drone that was reported in the area raised safety concerns. Drones have also disrupted and threatened the safety of large scale public events. For example, there were nearly 2,500 drone incursions over stadiums during National Football League games in 2022 – including one that caused a stop in play at a game in Seattle.
The Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act reauthorizes DHS and DOJ’s current authorities to counter UAS threats provided by the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018. The bill also authorizes the Transportation Security Administration to proactively protect transportation infrastructure from drone threats. The legislation authorizes DHS and DOJ to use existing authorities to protect critical infrastructure.
The legislation allows state and local law enforcement and critical infrastructure owners and operators to use drone detection technology that has been approved by DHS. The bill creates a pilot program that will require coordination between state, local and federal law enforcement to mitigate UAS threats. Finally, the legislation requires DHS to develop a database of security-related UAS incidents that occur inside the United States.