Who’s allowed to use drone mitigation technology?  

What forms of drone detection technology are allowed and where?  

These seem like simple questions, but they are far more complicated than you might imagine.  

Let’s start with drone detection. As a general rule, companies and government entities can legally deploy systems designed to detect, track and identify drones and their operators as long as they are not decoding the communication between the drone and the remote, because doing so is considered a violation of the federal Wiretap Act. That means that any technology that can read the serial number without using DJI technology or anyone with takeover capabilities is illegal today. Additionally, when it comes to detection at airports, there is a second requirement that the systems be completely passive (eg: emit nothing) making all of the above plus radar-based detections illegal at airports. 

As for mitigation (stopping a drone), many of the same technologies that detect drones, including Dedrone’s, can also integrate with a solution to mitigate that threat, either by physically interfering with, hacking or jamming a rogue Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS) in flight. However, drones are considered aircraft, meaning that US law protects a drone at the same level as a 777 full of humans. Consequently, only the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have authority to use mitigation technology. These agencies cannot delegate that authority to local or state law enforcement agencies.  

That is the situation in the US today. 

Fortunately, pressure has recently been mounting to update these laws. In April, the White House published a Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan urging Congress to expand these mitigation authorities through a pilot program with SLTTs (state, local, tribal, and territorial) agencies and in August, there was a full day of sharing ideas, sponsored by the White House, at the Advanced Air Mobility Summit with thought leaders from industry, technology and legislators in attendance.  

Debate in Congress 

The law that granted DOJ and DHS authority to use drone mitigation tech, the Preventing Emerging Threats Act, was set to expire in October 2022. Congress was faced with a choice of letting it expire, extending or “re-authorizing” the law as is or further limiting or expanding authorities to others, for example SLTT (state, local, tribal and territorial). However, Congress chose to simply extend the law until mid-December 2022, after the midterm elections. Perhaps the “lame duck” session will tackle this mostly bipartisan issue at the end of this year. It is interesting to examine the differing points of view: some suggest that the law already endangers privacy protections while others like Sens. Johnson (R-Wis), Peters (D-Mich), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) are trying to expand the authorities through a separate act called the Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act. 

Looking Forward 

This is a classic situation where legislation lags technology and a change in the current laws is clearly needed. Clear and presumably bipartisan ideas from the White House include: 

  • Create a five-year pilot program for selected SLTT law enforcement agency participants to perform UAS mitigation activities 
  • Establish an authorized equipment list for authorities to use for drone detection and for drone mitigation so authorities know what they can and cannot use 
  • Authorize critical infrastructure sites to invest in mitigation equipment to be installed onsite and used by those with authority to do so. 
  • Create a national, federally-run database tracking drone incidents in order to better understand the threats posed.  

The pilot program is perhaps the most intriguing of these provisions. By allowing SLTT agencies to mitigate drones and offering guidance on approved technologies, law enforcement at all levels can get a better understanding of how to best utilize both detection and mitigation technologies to protect their communities, increasing adoption rates overall.  

With all this in mind, the next step could be the Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act, which is currently with the Senate for consideration. In its current form, the act takes some cues both from the original legislation and the White House’s Action Plan.  It would extend authority to the TSA to proactively protect transportation infrastructure from drone threats, which, as we’ve previously discussed, can cost airports, airlines and passengers dearly.  

Further authority on who can use drone mitigation technology would be welcomed. Coordination with the FAA could also become an issue, which has been raised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Engagement Center. 

Drone threats aren’t going away. The FAA estimates that more than 2.3 million drones will be registered by 2024, to say nothing of the drones that go unregistered. The benefits of more clarity and authority for counter-drone technology, meanwhile, are twofold. First, they will undoubtedly better enable the US drone economy to truly “take-off” and allow the US to remain the global leader in aviation, a position currently under threat. Second, they will increase the safety of our skies and the people and critical infrastructure below. Right now, Dedrone delivers world-class detection and mitigation soluti9ons used in 38 countries globally and we will monitor closely the next moves from the federal government, including the Remote ID rollout with a deadline of September 2023 

Mary-Lou Smulders

About the author

Mary-Lou Smulders is the Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone, where she leads Dedrone's global marketing and communications team.

Originally published Nov 3, 2022, updated Feb 5, 2023