A privacy organization is launching a campaign to try to prevent Congress from adopting provisions that would allow the feds to shoot down privately owned drones when the machines are perceived as a “threat.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation outlined the situation that is developing:
“When government agencies refuse to let the members of the public watch what they’re doing, drones can be a crucial journalistic tool. But now, some members of Congress want to give the federal government the power to destroy private drones it deems to be an undefined ‘threat.’ Even worse, they’re trying to slip this new, expanded power into unrelated, must-pass legislation without a full public hearing. Worst of all, the power to shoot these drones down will be given to agencies notorious for their absence of transparency, denying access to journalists, and lack of oversight,” the organization said.
There was, in fact, a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the Prevent Emerging Threats Act of 2018, which would allow the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice the new authority.
But it was back in June.
“Now, Chairman Ron Johnson is working to include language similar to this bill in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA),” the EFF said.
That’s complicated annual bill that authorizes and pays for military programs.
It’s unrelated to either the DHS or DOJ.
“Hiding language in unrelated bills is rarely a good way to make public policy, especially when the whole Congress hasn’t had a chance to vet the policy,” the EFF said.
“But most importantly, expanding the agencies’ authorities without requiring that they follow the Wiretap Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act raises large First and Fourth Amendment concerns that must be addressed.”
The organization pointed out how important drones can be to journalism – or transparency. It cited DHS decisions to deny reporters access to centers where illegal aliens are held.
“On the rare occasions DHS does allow entry, the visitors are not permitted to take photos or record video. Without other ways to report on these activities, drones have provided crucial documentation of the facilities being constructed to hold children,” the report said.
The proposal is S. 2836, and if adopted, would let the DHS “track,” “disrupt,” “control,” “seize or otherwise confiscate” any drone that the government deems to be a “threat,” without a warrant or due process.
“EFF has been concerned about government misuse of drones for a long time,” the group reported. “But drones also represent an important tool for journalism and activism in the face of a less-than-transparent government. We can’t hand the unchecked power to destroy drones to agencies not known for self-restraint, and we certainly can’t let Congress give them that power through an opaque, backroom process.”