DOJ and FAA Issue New Security Concerns in UAS Operations

By William D. Ezzell

This week, the UAS world witnessed two concerning developments related to national security. On Wednesday, newly appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Wray warned that terrorist organizations are actively seeking drones as a means to wage attacks. “I think we do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using drones.” Wray elaborated even further, “We’ve seen that overseas already with growing frequency. I think the expectation is that it’s coming here imminently. I think they are relatively easy to acquire, relatively easy to operate, and quite difficult to disrupt and monitor.”

And coinciding with Director Wray’s warning, on Thursday, the FAA banned UAS flights over 10 Department of the Interior (DOI) sites, including the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore. Issued pursuant 14 C.F.R. § 99.7 “Special Security Instructions,” the flight restrictions will take effect October 5, 2017. The FAA announced the restrictions at the requests of “national security and law enforcement agencies,” including the Department of Justice. The flight restriction will extend up to 400 feet laterally from the following sites:

  • Statue of Liberty National Monument; New York, NY
  • Boston National Historical Park (U.S.S. Constitution); Boston, MA
  • Independence National Historical Park; Philadelphia, PA
  • Folsom Dam; Folsom, CA
  • Glen Canyon Dam; Lake Powell, AZ
  • Grand Coulee Dam; Grand Coulee, WA
  • Hoover Dam; Boulder City, NV
  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; St. Louis, MO
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial; Keystone, SD
  • Shasta Dam; Shasta Lake, CA

Way’s comments alone raise significant alarm. “Imminent” leaves little room for interpretation, particularly in light of what Director Wray meant by “the expectation.” Whether this is a collective expectation by intelligence and security agencies based on actionable intelligence, remains unclear. Nevertheless, these developments highlight a longstanding concern in an industry clamoring for increased regulation. For better or for worse, it is fair to expect an increasingly robust array of flight restrictions that require constant diligence for companies and operators alike. 

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