At the dawn of the Department of Homeland Security, no one was thinking about how to manage flying robots. In the almost 16 years since its founding, air travel passengers adjusted to the swath of security changes put in place with the aim of lessening the likelihood of airline hijackings. It is the low sky, then, the space where airliners don’t travel except during landings and takeoffs, that a different sort of concern has emerged: what to do about cheap, easy to pilot drones, should they ever become a threat?
Last week, the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked Congress for the authority to “identify, track, and mitigate drones that could pose a danger to the public and to DHS operations,” reports Reuters. Nielsen cited the specific example of ISIS using armed drones, though the technique is hardly limited to ISIS; irregular forces fighting in Ukraine also adapted quadcopters into miniature bombers. The Army is already investing heavily in solving this problem.
As fits the DHS mandate, Nielsen’s concern was focused not on the dangers posed by quadcopters to servicemembers fighting abroad, but that America’s enemies (specifically alluding to ISIS) will use drones as weapons stateside. This is a fear that has yet to materialize, though the technology to make it happen is certainly available, should a nefarious actor decide to pursue it. Additionally, Nielsen wants tools to protect against drones doing surveillance or smuggling drugs, which are at least things people have actually done with drones inside the United States. (Notably absent from the list of threats is the drone swarm that the FBI saysinterfered with a hostage rescue operation, perhaps the most novel use of drones for illicit behavior so far observed.)
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