Changing drone laws and policies in the US

Changing drone laws and policies in the US

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US drone surveillance policy

We are ushering in a new age of aviation: The Drone Era. And it’s moving at a quicker pace than anything else we have ever seen. If you have the idea, the drone manufacturers are already making it. As the drone tech is escalating up, the lawmakers are having a tough time keeping up.

Overruling FAA

In a stunning David versus Goliath case, John A. Taylor, a recreational drone operator and attorney from Maryland, beat the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Justice in a case challenging the legality of a December 2015 FAA rule requiring model aircraft to register like manned aircraft.  A federal appeals court has deemed the FAA’s drone registration program unlawful as it applies to model aircraft. However, the ruling does not impact Part 107, or registration for commercial drones.

In his suit, Taylor claimed that the registration program went against Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which required all the hobbyists to register their drones in the national database and pay a $5 fee. While the FAA responded to this accusation by stating that the registration program was not a new rule but simply a new (online) way of accommodating the established rule requiring aircraft registration, the judges weren’t buying any and said that FAA’s legal argument was faulty.

The opinion and order released are quite direct. “In short, the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act provide that the FAA ‘may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft,’ yet the FAA’s 2015 Registration Rule is a ‘rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft,’” states the opinion. “Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler. The Registration Rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft.” The FAA argued that the Registration Rule was necessary to comply with the directive to “improve aviation safety.” But the argument was dismissed as according to law the statutes as written must be followed without consideration of shifts in policy.

The court has accepted Taylor’s petition for review of the Registration Rule, prohibited FAA from passing any rules regarding the operations of a model aircraft and exempted drones used for recreational purposes or model aircraft from the registration.

US drone surveillance policy

On the flip side, according to the news in The New York Times, “The Trump administration is asking Congress to give the federal government sweeping powers to track, hack and destroy any type of drone over domestic soil with a new exception to laws governing surveillance, computer privacy, and aircraft protection.” A 10-page draft and summary of legislation document obtained by NYT have already been circulated among several congressional committees.

Also Read: The current scenario of global drone regulations and laws
Drones air traffic control to come up soon

The proposal is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which has not yet been made public. The bill seems to be a response to suspicions that drones could be used by terrorists to carry out attacks on secured areas. The document acknowledges that destruction of drones “may be construed to be illegal under certain laws” and proposes that changes be made to allow the government to use “countermeasures” to manage the threat. The document lays out four actions that the government could take:

  1. Detect, identify, monitor, or track, without prior consent, an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo, to evaluate whether it poses a threat to the safety or security of a covered facility, location, or installation or a covered operation, including by means of interception of or other access to wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications or signals transmitted to or by an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo.
  2. Redirect, disable, disrupt control of, exercise control of, seize, or confiscate, without prior consent, an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo that poses a threat to the safety or security of a covered facility, location, or installation or a covered operation, including by intercepting, substituting, or disrupting wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications or signals transmitted to or by an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo.
  3. Use reasonable force to disable, disrupt, damage, or destroy an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo that poses a threat to the safety or security of a covered facility, location, or installation or a covered operation.
  4. Conduct research, testing, training on, and evaluation of any equipment including any electronic equipment, to determine its capability and utility…

While the proposal is not entirely surprising given recent reports of commercial drones used overseas in terrorist operations, the sweeping nature of the bill is cause for some concern in the industry.  If the government can track and destroy any drone owned by a citizen that it deems a threat, the possibility for misuse or mistakes in the application of the rule may be too high.