Yesterday the Trump Administration circulated a draft of a new proposal that would allow the federal government to track, commandeer, disable, hack or destroy drones flying in the United States.
The bill has circulated among Congressional staff, according to sources. There have been two meetings, one between administration officials and Congressional staff and another that’s a classified briefing with administration officials, a Senate aide told Recode.
Trump’s drone bill comes days after a federal court ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration lacks the authority to require non-commercial drone operators to register their aircraft. That means that hobby drone operators no longer have to log their drone in the FAA’s database.
But aircraft registration would likely be necessary for law enforcement to identify who is illegally or recklessly flying a drone in order to decide when to exercise the proposed power to disable, track or destroy someone’s personal unmanned aircraft.
Law enforcement have voiced concern over the difficulty in keeping track of drones in recent months, leading the FAA to create a new agency taskforce to determine how the federal government and police could remotely identify drones.
The problem is that if a drone is flying over a prison or a crowd of people or over someone’s private property, it’s incredibly hard to locate where the drone’s pilot is, even if the pilot is operating the aircraft within line of sight. If there was a remote way to identify who owns the drone, law enforcement would be able to actually enforce drone laws and provide more accountability.
This new proposal from the Trump administration would provide the federal government more power than the ability to remotely identify personal aircraft. If passed, the government would be able to seize control and confiscate a drone, including its payload, without prior consent to evaluate if it poses a security threat to areas that receive special government protection. That means an SD card or images stored on the drone could be searched.
But it also means that drones may have less privacy protection than a cellphone, which currently cannot be searched without a warrant.
The proposal says that the government would need to “respect privacy, civil rights and civil liberties” when it intercepts a drone or its communications, and that no court would have jurisdiction “to hear any cause or claim” arising from any of the new powers to track, hack or seize a drone granted in the new proposal. So if there is a privacy complaint, it’s unclear that it could be disputed in court.
An FAA bill last year included a project to test technologies for disabling drones flying near airports, a spokesperson from the Senate Commerce Committee, which has been exploring FAA modernization and drone legislation this year, told Recode in a statement. “The Commerce Committee will continue to review ideas, including those put forward by the administration, for having the FAA protect the safety of our airspace,” the statement read.
The New York Times earlier reported on this proposal.
This story is still developing.
Read the feel proposal here, which was obtained by Recode.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.