To “ensure that we are positioned for the future to address this new threat,” Attorney General William Barr just announced extensive new counter-drone guidelines to federal law enforcement. “Unfortunately,” Barr warns, “the threat is not theoretical.”
A new threat buzzing on the horizon
If coronavirus weren’t a big enough danger to America, there’s a growing technological hazard looming on the horizon. “As drones become more powerful and capable,” the AG notes, “they also become a more attractive tool for criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors to cause disruption and destruction. Unfortunately, the threat is not theoretical.”
Attorney General Barr wants Department of Justice officials to know that they have the full authority to do whatever it takes to protect our national security. Whatever necessary “lawful action against drones that threaten the safety of the skies, the public, or your missions” is allowed. At the same time, he wants the public to know that their privacy and other Constitutional rights will be protected as well.
Barr insists that the 22-page guidelines handed down on Monday will let law enforcement “approach our efforts responsibly, with full respect for the Constitution, privacy, and the safety of the national airspace.” The gadgetry itself has lots of practical and helpful uses, Barr points out. “Drone technology has transformative potential as a valuable law-enforcement and public-safety tool, including for use in crime scene investigations, search and rescue operations, and security assistance.”
Protect national security
Justice Department agencies including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, were all given full authority to use “protective measures against drones,” up to and including shooting them down, if they “pose a threat to national security.”
They don’t have to ask for a warrant to “intercept communications from a threatening drone” and they can hold on to any data they snoop for up to 180 days. There are some protections built in, like “explicit protections for privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.”
They can shoot the craft down if necessary. Under the regulations, the agencies can take “protective measures” including, “the detection and tracking of the unmanned aircraft without prior consent, warning the drone operator, disrupting the control of the unmanned aircraft without prior consent, disabling the unmanned aircraft, or seizing control of the drone.” As a last resort, they can use reasonable force to “disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system.”
Coordinated with the FAA
The agencies are required to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration before “the downing, destruction or disabling of any threatening drones.” The idea is to asses the risk to “manned and unmanned aircraft, aviation safety, airport operations and infrastructure, and air navigation services.”
Agencies have to also “consider and be sensitive at all times to the potential impact protective measures may have on legitimate activity by unmanned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems, including systems operated by the press.”
Certain special events are listed which qualify for enhanced anti-drone protections. Gatherings which classify as “Special Security Events” like ones with “political, economic, social, or religious significance” are especially vulnerable. They could easily be “targeted by terrorists or other criminals.”
Things like “presidential inaugurations, Republican or Democratic nomination conventions, major international summits in the United States, such as the G-7 or the United Nations, and major sporting events like the World Series or Super Bowl” all need to have extra attention.