A bipartisan bill is raising concerns among civil liberties groups over provisions that would allow the U.S. government to surveil, hack and shoot down consumer drones deemed a threat.
The Preventing Emerging Threats Act, according to National Journal’s Brendan Bordelon, would grant certain agencies the ability to take offensive measures against any unmanned aerial vehicles “that encroach on facilities, events, or assets the agencies deem to be at high risk from bad actors.”
Critics argue that the legislation’s broad language could lead to widespread abuse, while proponents point to incidents such as the recent attempted assassination of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which utilized drones carrying explosives, as proof of the bill’s necessity.
The act has been attached to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, which must be decided on by the end of this month.
Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says the bill would give both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “enormous new surveillance powers, the ability to use force, to seize private property, and to do all of that with no judicial oversight whatsoever.”
“A bill that raises these kinds of privacy and civil-liberties concerns shouldn’t become law, and it certainly shouldn’t be passed as part of this larger package that makes it very difficult for members to raise concerns and seek amendments to problematic provisions,” she said.
While an earlier draft of the bill initially exempted the DOJ and DHS from abiding by certain laws concerning due-process, an updated bill still raises concerns over “broad exemptions from the privacy protections afforded by the Wiretap Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and pen-register and trap-and-trace statutes,” Bordelon adds.
“While law enforcement previously had the emergency authority to take action against civilian drone threats, their actions would be subject to rigorous judicial scrutiny after the fact. That’s not the case with the new legislation…” Bordelon says, citing Open Technology Institute’s senior policy counsel Robyn Greene.
Although numerous civil liberties groups are pushing for the bill to be detached from the FAA’s reauthorization, many expect it to continue reappearing whenever “must-pass legislation rolls around” again.
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