US police to get access to drone-tracking tech

President Biden’s administration has recently presented a plan which among others aims at giving state and local police access to drone-tracking technology.

The White House asked Congress to enact a new legislative proposal to expand the set of tools and actors who can protect against drones by reauthorizing and expanding existing counter-UAS authorities for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, State, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency and NASA in limited situations.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (also known as UAS or drones) have become a regular feature of American life over the last decade. As the White House pointed out, drones are used in the USA for several purposes such as recreation, research, and commerce. However, the proliferation of this new technology has also introduced new risks to public safety and according to data security experts, there are crucial issues related to privacy, and homeland security.

Based on data presented by the White House, 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 levels.

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Biden’s plan

To tackle these privacy issues, Biden and his advisers are currently working on the Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan, to expand where the White House can protect against nefarious UAS activity, which is authorized to take action, and how it can be accomplished lawfully.

“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 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 our vital security interests” the White House noted. “To protect our Homeland and prevent their growing use from threatening the safety and security of our people, our communities, and our institutions, this Counter-UAS National Action Plan will set new ground rules for the expanding uses of UAS and improve our defenses against the exploitation of UAS for inappropriate or dangerous purposes”.

Photo by Shalom de León on Unsplash

Drone pilots are worried

Both state and local police will have equipment that will detect and monitor drones flying in the air, in any neighborhood of the United States, and will be able to access information about the identity of the drones at any time, to disable threatening aircraft. However, this seems to have already caused concern to several drone pilots, who believe that the police are acquiring equipment that monitors and locates not only the drones but also those who operate them. Many drone pilots have already rushed to express their concern, saying that such a development is a means of monitoring citizens and violating their personal data.

The White House plans to establish a list of U.S. Government-authorized detection equipment to give state and local police the ability to track any drone and to avoid the risks of inadvertent disruption to airspace or the communications spectrum. Also, the White House is now working 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.

George Mavridis is a freelance journalist and writer based in Greece. His work primarily covers tech, innovation, social media, digital communication, and politics. He graduated from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication. Also, he holds an MA in Media and Communication Studies from the Malmö University of Sweden and an MA in Digital Humanities from the Linnaeus University of Sweden.