U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Ron Johnson (R-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to significantly enhance our nation’s ability to counter the security threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly 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 (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) with necessary tools to effectively counter dangerous UAS 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 the senators’ bill will ensure the federal government is better prepared to defend against maliciously or recklessly operated drones.
“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 Senator Peters. “This bipartisan bill will help our federal government protect high profile events and critical infrastructure from recklessly or nefariously operated drones, and ensure that we are respecting the rights and liberties of responsible drone users.”
“With past incursions into our airspace in recent months, we need to meet potential, oncoming threats,” said Senator Johnson. “I’m happy to join this bipartisan group of senators to address these potential threats in a manner that safeguards Americans’ privacy and individual liberties.”
“Our commonsense, bipartisan legislation counters malicious drones at the border and protects critical infrastructure across our state – keeping Arizona families safe and secure,” said Senator Sinema, Chair of the Senate Border Management Subcommittee.
“North Dakota remains the nation’s proving ground for UAS technology development and implementation,” said Senator Hoeven. “In order to reap the benefits of UAS technology, we must guard against the malicious use of UAS. Our legislation helps ensure we have authorities in place to secure our airspace and improve public safety through counter-UAS technology.”
The commercial market for UAS is rapidly expanding due to the increased accessibility of these new technologies. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that by 2024 about 2.3 million UAS will be registered to fly in U.S. airspace. The increasing numbers of registered UAS 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. Recent incidents have demonstrated disruptions that UAS can cause. 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.
Text of the bill, designated S.1631, has not yet been published.
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