Federal officials seeking to expand drone use around the United States said they are pushing a pair of security initiatives to deal with what one called “the clueless, the careless and the criminal.”
Federal Aviation Administration officials said they want all, or nearly all, drones to have the electronic equivalent of a tail number that would allow them to be identified from afar. Such a requirement, dubbed “remote identification,” could help public safety authorities differentiate between potential threats and benign flights and make enforcement easier if people break the law, the officials said.
Trump administration officials are also seeking legal changes to give the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department powers to track, disrupt or knock down drones that pose security dangers. That would mirror powers given to the Department of Defense in 2016 and expanded in 2017.
An FAA advisory group couldn’t agree last year on which classes of drones should be subject to a remote ID requirement. But FAA officials indicated at a joint government-drone industry conference in Baltimore on Tuesday that netting the societal benefits they see from sharply expanding drone use will only be possible if it is clear who is flying. Millions of the agile and affordable quadcopters and other such aircraft have already been sold in the United States.
“Anonymous operations in the system aren’t consistent with moving forward with integration and expansion of operations,” said Angela Stubblefield, the FAA’s deputy associate administrator for security and hazardous materials safety. Possible threats include using drones to attack or surveil targets, she said.
Acting FAA administrator Daniel K. Elwell said the intent is to establish the ID requirement “very quickly,” in an effort to minimize the risk that ignorance or ill intent could set back progress already being made to open up U.S. skies. The Trump administration has launched a drone integration pilot program to spur broad new uses of unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, from product delivery to infrastructure inspection.
“One malicious act could put a hard stop on all the good work we’ve done on drone integration,” Elwell said at the symposium put on by the FAA and industry group AUVSI.
Drones are covered by laws against computer hacking and wiretapping, complicating efforts to track users or take over their controls for security reasons. Yet changing laws protecting electronic communications could have civil liberties implications.
Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the federal government has limited authority to detect and defeat drone-based threats.
“The administration is working on a legislative proposal to enable certain agencies to use technology capable of detecting, and if necessary, mitigating UAS-based threats to certain sensitive facilities and assets,” Kratsios said, adding that officials will work with members of Congress, industry officials and others on the proposal in coming weeks and months.
Kratsios indicated that the White House remains impatient about making regulatory changes to speed innovation in the globally-competitive drone industry.
“We cannot allow the promise of tomorrow to be hamstrung by the bureaucracies of the past,” Kratsios said.