Buried inside a massive spending bill working its way to the White House is a measure that could allow authorities to destroy private drones without a warrant.
The nearly 1,000-page FAA Reauthorization Act was approved 93-6 on Wednesday by the Senate in a rare show of bipartisan effort. The House bill, which passed that body last year by voice vote, is currently at the stage of resolving differences between the two chambers in Congress before heading to President Trump’s signature.
Part of the language of the measure allows authorities to address potential risks posed by wayward or “possibly hostile” unmanned air systems, commonly referred to as drones, and, if thought dangerous, to allow for members of the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to seize control of the craft or “Use reasonable force, if necessary, to disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.”
This has civil liberties groups metaphorically up in arms over what they characterize as a vague mandate that can be easily abused.
“These provisions give the government virtually carte blanche to surveil, seize, or even shoot a drone out of the sky — whether owned by journalists or commercial entities — with no oversight or due process,” said Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. The group, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have slammed the anti-drone aspect of the bill, saying it could legalize the shoot down, for example, of media drones capturing footage of potentially controversial events or the destruction of unmanned aircraft used by advocates to document protests.
“If lawmakers want to give the government the power to hack or destroy private drones, then Congress and the public should have the opportunity to debate how best to provide adequate oversight and limit those powers to protect our right to use drones for journalism, activism, and recreation,” the EFF told Tech Crunch.