The Biden administration has released what it called the “first whole-of-government plan” to address domestic threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as “drones.”
According to a White House fact sheet, UAS have become a regular feature of American life over the last decade. They’re used for recreation, research, and commerce. But the administration said proliferation of this new technology has also introduced new risks to public safety, privacy, and homeland security. Malicious actors have increasingly used UAS domestically to commit crimes, conduct illegal surveillance and industrial espionage, and thwart law enforcement efforts at the local, state, and federal level.
Through the Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan, the administration is working to expand where authorities can protect against nefarious UAS activity, who is authorized to take action, and how it can be accomplished lawfully. According to the administration, the plan seeks to achieve this legitimate expansion while safeguarding the airspace, communications spectrums, individual privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights.
To achieve this balance, the administration also said it is calling on Congress to adopt legislation to close “critical gaps” in existing law and policy that currently impede government and law enforcement from protecting the American people and vital security interests.
The Counter-UAS National Action Plan provides eight key recommendations for action:
- Work with Congress to enact a new legislative proposal to expand the set of tools and actors who can protect against UAS by reauthorizing and expanding existing counter‑UAS authorities for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, and State, as well as the CIA and NASA in limited situations. The proposal also seeks to expand UAS detection authorities for state, local, territorial and Tribal (SLTT) law enforcement agencies, and critical infrastructure owners and operators. The proposal would also create a federally sponsored pilot program for selected SLTT law enforcement agency participants to perform UAS mitigation activities and permit critical infrastructure owners and operators to purchase authorized equipment to be used by appropriate federal or SLTT law enforcement agencies to protect their facilities.
- Establish a list of U.S. government-authorized detection equipment, approved by federal security and regulatory agencies, to guide authorized entities in purchasing UAS detection systems in order to avoid the risks of inadvertent disruption to airspace or the communications spectrum.
- Establish oversight and enablement mechanisms to support critical infrastructure owners and operators in purchasing counter-UAS equipment for use by authorized federal entities or SLTT law enforcement agencies.
- Establish a National Counter-UAS Training Center to increase training accessibility and promote interagency cross-training and collaboration.
- Create a federal UAS incident tracking database as a government-wide repository for departments and agencies to have a better understanding of the overall domestic threat.
- Establish a mechanism to coordinate research, development, testing, and evaluation on UAS detection and mitigation technology across the federal government.
- Work with Congress to enact a comprehensive criminal statute that sets clear standards for legal and illegal uses, closes loopholes in existing federal law, and establishes adequate penalties to deter the most serious UAS-related crimes.
- Enhance cooperation with the international community on counter‑UAS technologies, as well as the systems designed to defeat them.
In a statement, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said the administration’s plan and legislative proposal are “vital to enabling DHS and our partners to have the necessary authorities and tools to protect the public, the president and other senior officials, federal facilities, and U.S. critical infrastructure from threats posed by the malicious and illicit use of unmanned aircraft systems.”