Bipartisan House bill seeks to reauthorize federal counter-drone authority

A sign announcing a ban on drone flights near the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge in Page, Arizona.

A sign announcing a ban on drone flights near the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge in Page, Arizona. Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

A proposal to extend the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice’s authority to mitigate threats from unmanned aircraft systems would also grant new counter-drone abilities to the FAA.

House lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would extend the federal government’s ability to mitigate threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, while also attempting to safeguard the civil liberties of drone enthusiasts. 

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn. — chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee — would extend the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice’s abilities to counter risks posed by errant drones, which are set to expire in September.

The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, as well as Sam Graves, R-Mo., Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. Graves and Larsen are the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, while Nadler is ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The lawmakers said they also introduced their bill as an amendment to the fiscal year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act.

The original counter-drone authority, the Preventing Emerging Threats Act, was signed into law in 2018 as a provision of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. It authorized DHS and DOJ to take steps to mitigate credible threats posed by drones to “certain facilities and assets,” including airports and mass public events. 

Under the law, the departments were granted the ability to seize, control or confiscate a threatening UAS, as well as use “reasonable force to disable, damage or destroy” drones.

FBI Director Chris Wray told lawmakers last October that, without the authority, “there is no public safety agency in this country that can provide counter-UAS security” at mass events.

The lawmakers’ legislation would extend DHS and DOJ’s counter drone authorities through October 1, 2028, and also improve coordination between the two departments, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration. 

The FAA, in particular, would be granted new counter-drone authority, be required to develop counter-drone plans for U.S. airports and be mandated to “establish minimum performance requirements for the safe and reliable deployment or use of counter-UAS detection and mitigation systems.”

The bill also seeks to limit the amount of data collected by government agencies “to protect privacy and civil liberties when carrying out counter-UAS detection and mitigation activities.”

This includes requiring that intercepted communications to or from UAS are used “only to the extent necessary” by officials. Any collected records would also be required to be “disposed of immediately,” unless they are needed to assist with an investigation. 

“This legislation meets the moment by ensuring DHS and DOJ have the appropriate authorities to act swiftly and decisively to detect, track and mitigate hostile drone use, and to coordinate effectively with other agencies like the FAA or law enforcement partners in this pursuit,” Green said in a statement. “At the same time, this bill protects the privacy and freedom of Americans who use these innovative technologies in a legal and responsible manner.”

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have repeatedly tried to pass a longer-term renewal of the departments’ counter-drone authorities, although short-term extensions have been included in recent funding agreements.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and a bipartisan group of senators previously introduced legislation in May 2023 to renew DHS and DOJ’s counter-drone authority. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., led a similar bipartisan effort in the House last June.