Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Department of Justice Forecasts an Increase in Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) Protection Activities and Criminal Enforcement Actions

In a press release dated October 13, 2020, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced the protection activities undertaken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) to counter the threat posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS” or “drones”) at certain National Special Security Events (“NSSE”) (see P.L. 106-544, Sec. 3. 114 Stat. 2716) , Special Events Assessment Rating (“SEAR”) events, and select mass gatherings throughout the country over the past fiscal year.  (An NSSE is a major federal government or public event designated by the Presidentor his representative, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that is considered to be nationally significant as designated event that  may be the target of domestic / international terrorist activity.  SEAR events are voluntarily submitted special events, which are sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Operations Coordination (OPS) by state, local, and federal officials for a risk assessment. Examples of submitted events have included the Super Bowl, Indianapolis 500, and the Kentucky Derby.)

The DOJ press release indicates that the agency and the FBI are publicizing protection activities in an effort to deter careless and criminal UAS operators in light of an anticipated increase in enforcement activity in response to the misuse of UAS. 

The DOJ press release states that the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 (codified at 6 U.S.C. § 124n) provides DOJ a tailored grant of authority for authorized DOJ components such as the FBI (and six other bureaus  in the DOJ) to take appropriate and lawful action against unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft systems that threaten the safety and security of the public, covered facilities and assets, and DOJ missions, consistent with the Constitution, applicable federal laws and regulations, and department policy. (The United States Code at 49 U.S.C. § 44801(5) defines the term "counter-UAS system" as a system or device capable of lawfully and safely disabling, disrupting, or seizing control of an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system.)

DOJ indicates that from Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020, the FBI has provided counter-UAS support at dozens of events, including national level sporting events such as Super Bowl LIV in Miami, the 2019 World Series, and the 2020 Rose Bowl Game, as well as at other major events that draw large crowds like Washington, D.C.’s A Capitol Fourth and New York City’s New Year’s celebration.  During this period, the FBI has detected over 200 UAS unlawfully flying in national security airspace restricted by the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration at such events, and has taken corrective action. 

Operators who violate the national security-related flight restrictions put in place to protect these events risk facing criminal charges.  See  49 U.S.C. § 46307, which enforces 49 U.S.C. § 40103 (b) (3). 

The full DOJ press release can be viewed here.

For more information contact Robert E. Kelly at Kellylawuas@gmail.com