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The Biden administration is rolling out its first whole-of-government plan to counter threats posed by drones to the United States, as malicious actors are increasingly using unmanned aircraft systems to commit crimes and conduct illegal surveillance, industrial espionage and more, a senior administration official said Monday.
The official said that over the last decade, drones, known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), have become a “regular feature of American life,” noting they are used for recreation, research and for commerce.
The official warned, though, that the proliferation of the technology has introduced “new risks” to public safety, privacy and homeland security.
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The administration, on Monday, rolled out the “Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan,” in order to proactively address threats and protect the United States against “nefarious UAS activity.”
The official said Monday the plan was developed in coordination with multiple agencies, the intelligence community and regulatory professionals in an effort to close “critical gaps in policy and law” that impede the government’s ability to “defend vital national security interests.”
The official said Monday that the Biden administration is “not aware of any specific threats by any specific state or non-state actors.” Instead, the rollout is in response to “concerning” activities overseas.
“We know the same capabilities are existing here,” the official said, “This is so we can be proactive and ahead of a threat.”
The plan seeks to safeguard the airspace, communications spectrums, individual privacy, civil liberties and civil gaps to existing law and policy that they say “currently impede government and law enforcement from protecting the American people and our vital security interests,” said the official.
“UAS serve many beneficial commercial and recreational purposes. As has been the case with many technological advances, they can also be exploited for pernicious purposes,” the official said.
“To protect our homeland and prevent their growing use from threatening the safety and security of our people, our communities, and our institutions, this counter-UAS National Action Plan will set new ground rules for the expanding uses of UAS and improve our defenses against the exploitation of UAS for inappropriate or dangerous purposes.”
According to a senior administration official, only some agencies within the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), Defense and Energy have the authority under existing federal laws to conduct UAS detection and counter-UAS mitigation activities. Other departments may have the authority to conduct the activities, but not for all locations that are deemed high-risk.
The proposal announced Monday seeks to expand authorized agencies, as well as to include all sectors of critical infrastructure as authorized locations to UAS detection and counter UAS mitigation. The proposal also seeks to authorize the State Department to conduct domestic drone detection and counter-drone mitigation activities.
The administration is also proposing authorizing the CIA to conduct UAS detection and mitigation activities to protect domestic locations, and to authorize NASA to conduct detection activities to protect its locations.
Within the plan, the Biden administration is requesting congressional cooperation to enact a new legislative proposal to expand the set of tools and actors who can protect against UAS. The proposal also seeks to expand UAS detection authorities for state, local, territorial and tribal law enforcement agencies and critical infrastructure owners and operators.
The proposal would also create a federally-sponsored pilot program for law enforcement agency participants to perform UAS mitigation activities, and permit critical infrastructure owners and operators to purchase authorized equipment to be used by appropriate law enforcement agencies to protect their facilities.
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“The Biden-Harris administration’s C-UAS National Action Plan and legislative proposal are vital to enabling DHS and our partners to have the necessary authorities and tools to protect the public, the president and other senior officials, federal facilities, and U.S. critical infrastructure from threats posed by the malicious and illicit use of unmanned aircraft systems,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday.
“These threats are increasing at home and abroad, and the plan and legislative proposal call for the reauthorization and expansion of DHS’s C-UAS authority to help keep our communities safe.”