A bipartisan group from the U.S. House of Representatives, including Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Mike Johnson (R-LA), and Troy Carter (D-LA), has introduced the “Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act of 2023.” This proposed legislation aims to enhance the federal government’s capacity to protect the homeland from the threats associated with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). It achieves this by renewing existing authorities and establishing novel avenues for federal agencies to collaborate on counter-drone initiatives at the state and local levels.

The bipartisan legislation from the House has a companion bill in the Senate, which was introduced by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and John Hoeven (R-ND). S. 1631, is also formally titled, ‘‘Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act of 2023.’’ 

Read more about the companion U.S. Senate bill here.

“Drones are useful pieces of technology, but in the hands of bad actors, they can pose a serious danger to Americans,” said Rep. Gallagher. “As these devices become more accessible and advanced, it’s critical we give law enforcement the tools they need to address this evolving threat. This commonsense bill reauthorizes existing authorities and ensures law enforcement officials have the tools they need to keep Americans safe, whether they’re at an airport or a Packers game.”

“It’s no secret that commercial drones are becoming more and more commonplace in our communities,” said Rep. Houlahan. “Whether that be at soccer games or school functions, near military bases or airports, we need to make sure that there are sensible guardrails in place to protect Americans from potential threats. Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation builds upon existing law to address this rapidly changing technology. I’m proud to work with my colleagues across the aisle, in both the House and Senate, to pass this commonsense legislation.”

“As the market for unmanned aircraft systems expands, it is critically important that our law enforcement agencies are equipped with the tools necessary to counteract any potential threats,” said Rep. Johnson. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan group of lawmakers in sponsoring this bill.”

“In today’s world, technology is rapidly advancing, and with that progress comes new challenges. As unmanned aircraft systems become more prevalent in our daily lives, we must ensure that the safety and security of Americans are protected,” said Rep. Carter. “Our bipartisan legislation aims to create a robust framework that empowers federal agencies to effectively counter the threats posed by drones. By working together, we can safeguard our communities and preserve the peace of mind that every American deserves.”

Highlights of the House “Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act of 2023″

Reauthorizes DOJ and DHS

Under Section 210G, subsection (b), personnel from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) who are responsible for ensuring safety, security, and the protection of individuals, facilities, or assets, are granted the authority to detect, identify, monitor, track, and mitigate credible threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). This subsection includes exemptions specified in section 46502 of title 49, United States Code, as well as sections 32, 1030, 1367, and chapters 119 and 206 of title 18, United States Code. These exemptions enable DHS and DOJ to take the necessary actions outlined within this subsection.

Detection Authorities for SLTT and Critical Infrastructure

In Section 210G, subsection (c), specific provisions authorize State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) law enforcement agencies, as well as owners and operators of critical infrastructure such as airports and stadiums hosting large sports events, to utilize UAS detection, identification, and monitoring equipment. These exemptions are granted despite potential prohibitions imposed by federal laws. However, to qualify for these exceptions, the equipment used must adhere to a list of authorized equipment maintained by the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator, and the Secretary of Defense. Furthermore, the equipment must undergo testing and evaluation by the DHS or DOJ and meet additional standards set by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the FAA.

Mitigation Pilot Program for SLTT

Section 210G, subsection (d) introduces a provision enabling the DHS and the DOJ to initiate a pilot program. This program permits a limited number of SLTT law enforcement agencies to engage in both UAS detection and mitigation activities. Over a span of five years, DHS and DOJ may designate up to 12 SLTT law enforcement agencies per year for participation in the pilot program, with a total cap of 60 agencies. The pilot program, subject to federal safeguards and oversight, aims to supplement existing C-UAS missions of DHS and DOJ by addressing gaps in equipment and personnel availability for detecting and mitigating UAS threats in potential high-risk locations or targets. Furthermore, the subsection outlines specific guidelines for the execution of the pilot program. It also mandates that DHS and DOJ inform Congress about the use of these authorities by participating SLTT law enforcement agencies, starting two years after the first agency is designated, and annually thereafter.

Establish Training and Coordination of RDT&E

Section 210G, subsection (f) directs DHS), the DOJ, and the heads of law enforcement agencies participating in the pilot program under subsection (d) to conduct comprehensive studies and testing of emerging UAS technologies and equipment before their deployment. This subsection also permits other relevant personnel and contractors to independently carry out their own research and testing, adhering to the same criteria set for DHS, DOJ, and SLTT law enforcement agencies. Additionally, the subsection empowers the FBI Director, acting on behalf of the Attorney General, to organize training sessions and establish training centers focused on mitigating UAS-related threats. Lastly, the subsection emphasizes the importance of coordination among DHS, DOJ, and participating SLTT agencies to align their research, testing, training, and evaluation procedures with the standards specified by the FAA.

Privacy Requirements

Section 210G, subsection (j) imposes strict privacy safeguards within the guidance and regulations issued by the DHS and the DOJ. This section emphasizes that any interception or acquisition of communications or data must adhere to the Fourth Amendment protections and relevant federal laws. Moreover, it restricts the retention of intercepted records to a maximum of 180 days, unless there is a law enforcement or criminal connection. These records may only be disclosed outside of the respective Department if it serves a safety or security function of that Department, or supports the mission of the Department of Defense or law enforcement. For agencies participating in the SLTT pilot program, as well as entities outside the departments that acquire detection-only equipment, comparable privacy protections are required to be in place.

Establish a Database of UAS-related Security Incidents in the U.S.

Section 210G, subsection (r) authorizes DHS to develop a database of security-related UAS incidents that incur inside the United States. Incidents in the database may include information about UAS that repeatedly violate altitude or other federal aviation regulations in ways that may be dangerous or harmful to national defense or security.

Read the full text of the House bill here.