The Department of Homeland Security routinely denies reporters access to detention centers. On the rare occasions DHS does allow entry, the visitors are not permitted to take photos or record video. Without other ways to report on these activities, drones have provided crucial documentation of the facilities being constructed to hold children.
While the language expected to appear in the FAA bill hasn’t been made public yet, a similar bill was introduced in Congress earlier this year. It would have given DHS the ability to “track,” “disrupt,” “control,” and “seize or otherwise confiscate” any drone that the government deems to be a “threat,” without a warrant or due process. It’s easy to see how language this broad and vague could be abused: DHS and DOJ could interpret it to include the power to stop journalists or private citizens from using drones to document their activities, including malfeasance at DHS detention facilities.
The FAA reauthorization is not the place for these dangerous provisions. If lawmakers want to give the government the power to hack or destroy private drones, then Congress and the public should have the opportunity to debate how best to provide adequate oversight and limit those powers to protect our right to use drones for journalism, activism, and recreation.