Attorney General William Barr on Monday issued guidance for the Department of Justice’s use of counter-drone authorities and technologies, clearing the way for seven named components to begin working toward the use of these capabilities.
The counter-drone authorities are contained in the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018, which passed Congress that October and gives DoJ and the Department of Homeland Security legal backing to use technologies to detect, track, identify and mitigate threats from small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that pose a threat to certain facilities. Last year, a White House-led interagency group assigned the DHS Transportation Security Administration the lead role for countering drone operations at U.S. airports.
Barr’s guidance applies to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Services, the Justice Management Division, and the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys.
“The Guidance outlines the process by which your components may seek approval for the use of counter-drone technologies and request designation of facilities or assets for protection,” Barr said in the 22-page memorandum. “As a general rule, not every facility will qualify for protection. Only those considered ‘high risk and a potential target’ for drone activity—and relate to one of the authorized DoJ missions enumerated in the Act and the Guidance—will qualify.”
The guidance said covered facilities or assets may include a conveyance that is being protected by a relevant DoJ agency, or the “location of an active federal law enforcement investigation, emergency response, or security function” such as a National Special Security Event (NSSE). Presidential party conventions and the NFL’s Super Bowl are examples of NSSEs.
The needs of state, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement agencies, which are typically the first responders, haven’t been addressed by Congress regarding counter-UAS authorities but Barr’s guidance allows the DoJ, separately and with DHS, to deploy protective measures in support of these agencies.
The guidance was prepared in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and in consultation with DHS.
Pointing to concerns with operating counter-drone technologies in U.S. airspace, in particular near airports, Barr said component’s requesting approval for a covered facility or asset must include the location and how close it is to airports, air traffic control operations, and other “airspace features.”
Requests from components to use protective measures around an asset or facility must include the equipment that is planned to be used and how it works, whether the FAA recommends that the technology be used, whether communications relevant to privacy concerns may be intercepted, how long the equipment will be in place, and other authorities to mitigate drone threats.
The guidance includes a section on “procurement and training,” and said that equipment considered for protective measures must consider minimizing harm to bystanders, responders, and the national airspace system, minimize false positives and inaccurate location, sort out lawful UAS operations, work to share data with government partners, assess whether to purchase or lease technology, research and evaluate technology, and meet cyber security and supply chain requirements.