Unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) could be used by malicious actors to conduct unauthorized surveillance or to deliver hazardous payloads within the United States. But defending against such threats may violate the law as currently written.
“Some of the most promising technical countermeasures for detecting and mitigating UAS may be construed to be illegal under certain laws that were passed when UAS were unforeseen,” the Department of Defense said in its legislative proposals for the FY 2018 defense authorization act. “These laws include statutes governing electronic communications, access to protected computers, and interference with civil aircraft.”
DoD therefore asked Congress to enact legislation that would authorize development of drone countermeasures for domestic use without violating “many provisions” of existing law. See section 1602 of the DoD draft defense authorization act for FY 2018, submitted to Congress on May 25.
“Certain statutes are especially problematic” for defending against UAS threats, DoD said. Several sections of Title 18 of the US Code “might be construed to prohibit access to or interception of the telemetry, signaling information, or other communications of UAS.”
“Furthermore, any attempt to interfere with the flight of UAS that pose a threat” could violate the Aircraft Sabotage Act, which prohibits damage to or destruction of aircraft.
“The proposed legislation would generally allow research, testing, training on, and evaluating technical means for countering UAS,” including monitoring, tracking, re-directing, disabling or destroying such aircraft.
A broader look at Countering Air and Missile Threats was recently published by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Joint Publication 3-01, April 21, 2017).