In a dystopian episode of “Black Mirror,” a hacker tracked and seized control of robotic bees, and the Trump administration is reportedly looking into ways to do that with drones. But instead of using the drones to target unpopular people, this plan targets the drones themselves.
According to Recode, administration officials and congressional staff members are discussing legislation that lays out a four-step plan: First, identify or track the drone to see if it’s a threat. If so, take control. Then damage or disrupt the drone and its payload (like an SD card, for example). Finally, conduct research on it.
The move comes less than a week after a federal court struck down regulations that required recreational drone operators to register with the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s a move that drone hobbyist John Taylor, who challenged the regulations, feared would be coming.
“I’m concerned, as are other hobbyists, that the FAA will now go to Congress and try to get the authority that they lack,” Taylor told GeekWire last week in an email.
The FAA is still considering its response to the court’s ruling, but encouraging drone owners to register in the meantime.
Recode quoted an unidentified Senate aide as saying that a draft of the proposed bill has been circulating among congressional staff members, and that administration officials have conducted a classified briefing about the issue. That matches a similar report from The New York Times.
If passed, the federal government could seize a drone and any of its recordings without prior consent. Recode noted that drones would then be less protected than cell phones, which can’t be searched without a warrant.
A question surrounds the issue of how the bill could be challenged if it becomes law, because it states that “no court shall have jurisdiction to hear any cause or claim,” according to Recode.
In this case, the proposal refers to money damages after the drone is destroyed, but it might also be interpreted as referring to claims of privacy violation if the drone is searched.
The proposed legislation states that the federal government should respect an owner’s privacy and civil rights after seizing the drone, and share seized information only on a need-to-know basis.