Photo by Mark Colborn
A bill that would give legal authorities to the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Justice to counter threats posed by malicious drones in limited instances domestically was approved by a Senate panel Wednesday, but there might be jurisdictional disputes that prevent the legislation from getting to the Senate floor as quickly as hoped.
The Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by voice vote. The committee also adopted voice vote two amendments offered by Sen. Tom Carper to address privacy concerns and help define the threat from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Citing privacy concerns, Sen. Kamala Harris voted against the bill and amendments, but said during the markup, “I applaud the spirit behind the bill,” adding that she hopes her concerns can be addressed later.
At a hearing on the counter-UAS issue last week, Sen. Ron Johnson, the committee chairman and one of the backers of the bipartisan legislation, said he hoped to get the bill attached to the Senate’s version of the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is being considered by the Senate this week. During the markup, Johnson said it’s still possible to get the counter-UAS bill amended to the NDAA, but that there are some disagreements between the committee chairmen that have jurisdiction related to the issue.
Johnson didn’t elaborate on the specific disagreements, but said if an agreement can’t be reached, “we’ll try to move this in some other piece of legislation.”
The bill would provide authorities to both DHS and DOJ. Johnson’s committee has oversight of parts of DHS and government operations generally.
The bill only applies to federal officials and would allow drones that may pose a threat to certain assets to be disrupted and disabled and also would allow for DHS to research, develop and test counter-UAS technologies — activities that are largely prohibited now under current law.
The committee also adopted a number of other bills, including several related to homeland security. The DHS Data Framework Act requires DHS to create a central data framework to shorten the processing time of data searches against multiple department databases on individuals that might pose a security threat. The bill was approved by voice vote. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House.
The committee also approved by voice vote the Screening and Vetting Passenger Exchange Act, which directs DHS to develop best practices for using advanced passenger information and passenger name record data for screening and vetting operations and to make these practices available to certain countries.
The Opportunities to Provide for Illicit Opioid Interdiction and Detection Act of 2018 also passed by voice vote and directs the DHS Science and Technology brand and Customs and Border Protection to establish technology pilot programs to detect opioids in inbound international mail and at land ports of entry.
Another bill approved by voice vote, the DHS Field Engagement Accountability Act, directs DHS to develop a strategy for how it engages with state and local fusion centers. The committee also adopted the DHS Overseas Personnel Enforcement Act of 2017, which requires the department to report on its personnel deployed outside the U.S., and their duties and how they contribute to the counter-terrorism mission.