US authorities are now allowed to shoot down personal drones if they deem them to be a threat, thanks to a new bill which has been signed by President Donald Trump. But critics say the law could be easily abused.
The FAA Reauthorization Act, signed by Trump on Friday, includes several points which are aimed at bringing US aviation rules up to speed with modern times – including new provisions to act against privately-owned drones.
In particular, section 1602 of the act outlines the “protection of certain facilities and assets from unmanned aircraft” and authorizes the detection, monitoring, and interception of drones “without prior consent” of the owner. Authorities have also been allowed to neutralize a potential threat using “reasonable force, if necessary, to disable, damage, or destroy” the UAV.
It specifically allows for federal authorities to shoot down a person’s unmanned aerial vehicle without a warrant – but critics say that authority could be easily abused.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) denounced the FAA Reauthorization Act prior to Trump signing it, with a spokesperson telling Tech Crunch: “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.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) agrees, and says it endangers the First and Fourth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and protection from warrantless device seizures.
“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 said.
Drones have surged in popularity since being made available to the general public, with everyone from hobbyists and journalists jumping on board. However, there have been a number of incidents regarding drone use in the US, including one which found its way onto the White House lawn in 2015. That case prompted the Secret Service to jump into action, though the drone’s operator ultimately did not face charges after it was discovered that he merely lost control of the drone and was unaware that it had landed at the residence of former president Barack Obama.
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