Peters & Johnson Bipartisan Bill to Help Protect Communities from Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advances in Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) to significantly enhance our nation’s ability to counter the threat posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, has advanced in the Senate. The bill will renew and expand existing authorities – which are set to expire in October – that provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) with necessary tools to effectively counter UAS. The legislation comes after a hearing that Peters convened with senior federal officials on how government agencies are working to combat this evolving threat. U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) are also original cosponsors of the legislation. The bill was advanced by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee where Peters serves as Chair, and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

“It’s clear the federal government must be better prepared to address threats from unmanned aircraft systems. If used improperly, these technologies could disrupt or attack everything from critical infrastructure to high profile, crowded events,” said Senator Peters. “This bipartisan bill, which has now advanced in the Senate, will help our federal government tackle this evolving threat and ensure that recklessly or nefariously operated drones do not cause serious harm. It will also make sure that federal agencies responsible for countering threats from unmanned aircraft systems are more accountable and are respecting the rights and liberties of responsible drone users.”

“The threats posed by malicious unmanned aircraft are too great to ignore,” said Senator Johnson. “This bill will increase our ability to fight the growing threat of criminal drone activity across the country. It is paramount that our national security agencies have the tools they need to mitigate the serious threats posed by UAS. I hope my colleagues move quickly to support this bill that will further our national security.”

“We’re ensuring government keeps the tools it needs to stop drones from being used to conduct attacks, espionage, and other illicit activities,” said Senator Sinema.  “By reauthorizing and making common sense reforms to our ability to detect and interdict drones posing a threat to sensitive facilities, we will strengthen our border security and ensure Arizona’s airports are kept safe and secure.”

“We have increasingly seen the threat posed by drones used by transnational criminal organizations for illegal drug trafficking or surveilling border agents and officers,” said Senator Hassan. “This bill will take important steps to counter the threat of malicious drones, as well as helping make sure that drones cannot interfere with airport operations and safety. I encourage my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill that will strengthen our national security.”

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 the threat posed by UAS. Two weeks ago, 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. In September 2017, a privately operated drone in Brooklyn, New York, was intentionally flown beyond the operator’s line of sight and collided with a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter patrolling a temporary no-fly zone around New York City.

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 encourage coordination between state and 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.