Mohana Ravindranath | Nextgov | March 15, 2017 | 0 Comments

Lawmaker: Traffickers Might Use Drones To Smuggle Humans Across Borders

 Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Lawmakers are torn between talking up the many ways drones could transform everyday life and worrying about the potential for misuse, a recent congressional hearing demonstrated.

A Senate Commerce committee Wednesday asked unmanned aerial vehicles experts if they were aware of, or could prevent, a seemingly endless number of ways malicious actors could hijack drones. A major concern, according to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is drones interfering with passenger planes entering or exiting airports. He noted there had recently been "near misses" in Miami.

He later cited reports claiming drug traffickers in Colombia and Mexico are increasingly using drones to transport narcotics. When he asked whether the panel of experts, which included Earl Lawrence, Federal Aviation Administration's director of the Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, was "aware of any of these instances" in which drones had been used to "evade the screening and enforcement at ports, airports and other monitored areas," Nelson was met with silence.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

The method could be used for "not only drugs and other contraband but possibly people in the future," he mused. “Interestingly, this new drone in Dubai that’s now going to transport people—is that going to be a way of surreptitiously getting people across the border?"

Lawmakers also need to examine the privacy risks drones might cause to citizens, he added. 

“What about the drone that comes down to your bedroom window and starts filming?” Nelson said.

FAA is "working with stakeholders" to understand the vast number of dangerous scenarios Nelson alluded to, Lawrence said.

"No, Mr. Lawrence doesn't have all those answers. And that's one of the reasons why we've heard about the development of the Drone Advisory Committee," and other groups that discuss drone policy with state and local officials, he added.

Other lawmakers, however, were more interested in the many ways drones might be used to inspect vast swaths of land in rural states.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., for instance, noted drone operators in her home state use the machines to inspect tracks and bridges, and probed Lawrence on the process by which some drone operators, potentially safety inspectors, might obtain waivers to operate drones beyond the "visual line of sight" in low-risk areas. Current FAA regulations limit operation outside the area in which the remote pilot can physically see it.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., noted his state has a 5-year plan promoting drone use. Operators have been using the vehicles to monitor the spread of grassland fires in Kansas, for instance.

“We see great potential for drone technology ... in agriculture," he said.

Comments
JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.