Terror from the skies: The drones are coming. Can we stop them?
Innovation is a key component to a healthy economy. Over the last several years, advances in drone technology have provided efficient and effective ways for industries across the board to conduct everyday tasks. Farmers use drones to assess the health of their crops. First responders use drones for search and rescue efforts. Utility workers use drones to access pipelines and phone towers. Even insurance companies use drones to survey damage from above. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), approximately 11 million drones will be sold in the United States by 2020. This is a booming industry enjoyed by millions of drone enthusiasts with the innovative opportunity to change a wide-array of business practices. However, drone technology is also being exploited to advance crime and threaten our national security.
 
Drones serve as a mode of transportation for illegal drugs crossing the border as well as contraband entering prisons. The Washington Times recently reported that in November there were 13 drone sightings in less than a week across one section of the southern border. On the other side of the globe, militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are using weaponized consumer drones to target U.S. and coalition partners. It is only a matter of time before similar acts are executed here at home to target U.S. citizens. The threat of a terrorist drone carrying a conventional or chemical weapon is not out of the question.
 
Several civilian incidents from last year demonstrate the security lapses posed by irresponsible use of this technology. For example, a consumer drone collided with an Army Black Hawk helicopter after the drone operator violated FAA regulations. In California, a drone operator illegally dropped leaflets over football spectators at two National Football League stadiums.
 
Left unchecked, the nefarious use of drones and drone technology can drastically alter the laws regulating this burgeoning industry, levying burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on drone use. As is typical with government intervention, the pendulum often swings too far. It is necessary to get ahead of this by working with industry to institute smart, effective measures to protect against drone crime while encouraging the future growth of drone technology and availability. 
 
Currently, the federal government does not have all the necessary tools to mitigate and prevent drone crimes from occurring. Due to constraints imposed by federal law, federal agencies are prohibited from engaging with drones to prevent crimes or accidents from happening. Under Title 18 of the United States Code, it is illegal to willfully damage or destroy an aircraft, and drones are considered “aircraft.” Title 18 also prevents federal agencies from using tailored jamming or protocol manipulation to interdict drones because it is considered intruding on a “protected computer.” The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018 provided the Department of Defense with relief from Title 18 restrictions in order to protect certain military installations and assets. Unfortunately, federal agencies like the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security continue to have their hands tied, preventing them from interdicting a drone that poses a reasonable threat, such as those carrying drugs across the border. 
 
With this in mind, I have been working with agency and industry stakeholders to address this loophole in our law. In the coming weeks I will be introducing legislation that will provide Title 18 relief for the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Specifically, this bill will allow these agencies to use counter drone technology to detect, monitor, and engage with unauthorized drones that pose a reasonable threat to the safety and security of certain facilities and assets, including those related to operations that counter terrorism, narcotics, and transnational criminal organizations.
 
Far too often Congress plays a reactionary role in addressing issues of national security. When dealing with an imminent threat such as a drone attack, we cannot wait for tragedy to strike before acting. It is my intent to address the threats posed by rogue drones before they occur, and before they hinder a growing industry with limitless potential.
 
Congresswoman Vicky HartzlerVicky Jo HartzlerRecord numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Lawmakers target Chinese security companies over spy fears MORE represents the 4th District of Missouri and serves as Chairwoman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.