back to article White House: Is it OK to hijack, shoot down, or snoop on drones? Er ... asking for a friend

The Trump administration wants US Congress to extend the military's drone-downing powers to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, even as it backs broader commercial deployment for unmanned aircraft. The proposed rules, obtained by the Washington Post, would give civilian agencies powers similar to …

  1. James 51

    The instinct to hide every action no matter how justified or innocent (by anyone exercising this kind of power) is one that should be pushed back against. Might have a delay if the info is for an on going case but this reeks of planned abuse.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      We have become

      I have said it time and again and I will say it once more. We have become. We have reached the point where the Moscow mayor needs to keep an exorcist on the payroll to deal with the constant giggles coming out of the Kremlin wall and Novodevichie cemetery.

      One of the most prominent features of USSR was that anything and everything was classified and secret. People participating in meetings between USSR and USA at the time remember cases where USSR had to REMOVE members of its delegation out of the room because they did not have the correct access to material ABOUT the USSR brought in by the USA side. Well, what goes around comes around.

      USA is practically there now and its most prominent ally (or should we say client state) policies are giving trouble to another mayor - the Berlin one. He is having to send a repair team to the grave of Comrade Honeker on a regular basis to fix the damage to the marble plate from him having a boner.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I Agree with @James 51

      "exempt any actions taken along these lines from legally mandated disclosure requirements"

      What for ?

      We are presented with the message that drones are potentially used to communicate with prisoners, and do various nefarious things that a proper mother would shudder to think of, and are told that there needs to be power to shoot them down.

      Well fine, I can get behind that, but then why keep the shooting part secret if it is for the Defense Of The People ? What is soooo strategic and National Security about shooting down a drone that is attempting to go over a prison wall ?

      In a proper democracy, there has to be checks and balances. I understand that the check part is a nuisance to law enforcement, but if there is to be a democracy, and if democracy is what is supposed to be defended, then the checks should be welcome, not brushed aside or crushed under an iron veil of secrecy.

      Democracy cannot function in secret. Dictatorships do that.

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Law of unintended (but expected) consequences

    According to unreleased legislative text, terrorists have been using drones overseas to drop explosives overseas,

    Should have thought twice before training Syrian Islamists to build drones to attack Russian bases. Time and again USA and the West in general fails to learn that the enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend. Doubly so if they are fighting on religious ground. Or as they say it in the Middle East: "Do not feed the rabid pariah dog, it will turn around and bite you anyway".

    Though to be fair, it was only a matter of time until this genie would have come out of the bottle anyway. This still does not excuse the idiot who decided it is a good idea to uncork it.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Law of unintended (but expected) consequences

      Reference Maxim 29: The enemy of my enemy is my enemy's enemy. No more. No less.

      1. Stevie

        Re: Law of unintended (but expected) consequences

        Oh gawd, don't give military snoops hints to links like this or we will be on the black budget hook for a long gun.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge

    As the Department of Transportation describes the White House-backed initiative, "President Donald J. Trump is making American aviation great again."

    I really do hate government departments responding to journalists enquiries as if their readers/listeners/viewers were fucking morons. It's something that's taken hold in the UK as well. It's yet another step down the path to Idiocracy.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      It's yet another step down the path to Idiocracy.

      I thought we are already there and stepping down from that to the next level. The Cockroach-ocracy.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      "I really do hate government departments responding to journalists enquiries as if their readers/listeners/viewers were fucking morons."

      And maybe the journalists need to grow a pair and press them for more details and information instead of living in fear that they may not get invited to the press conference next time. Journalism by email and press release regurgitation isn't helping.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Terrorist drones

    If this crazy scheme of having drones drop packages off at houses happens then terrorists just need to build drones that look like the common delivery drones that carry a load of explosives in an Amazon box wired to go off when opened. Leave the drone/box in some hidden area in the middle of the night, then operate it the next day via cellular from two states away...how you gonna track down the culprit?

    We can try to 'harden' targets like airports and stadiums but there's no way you can harden apartment buildings and single family homes. The loss of life might be less, but if they randomly targeted addresses anywhere in the US they'd get the "terror" part down as the people who currently feel safe because they live in a small town and never travel anywhere would be vulnerable (granted still a greater than million to one shot they'd be targeted but when it comes to terrorism most people do a terrible job of evaluating risk compared to stuff to like dying in a car crash or slipping in their bathtub)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Terrorist drones

      Or they could leave the parcel on the door step. No need for drones.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Terrorist drones

        >Or they could leave the parcel on the door step. No need for drones.

        and no need for explosives either, just one phone call...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Terrorist drones

          Its a lot easier to get caught if you have to show up in person. It is probably easier for terrorists to recruit members if they don't have to commit to suicide or a high risk of immediate arrest and lifelong imprisonment.

  5. lglethal Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Why?

    Ok you want ot be able to take down Drones that are considered a risk. And the Police and Homeland Security want that. Ok I can see that. Doesnt sound unreasonable. I think 95% of people would be on board with that. Sounds good.

    Wait you want to make your use of these takedowns a secret? Why? What possible reason under regular law enforcement cases or even in cases where the word terrorism crops up, could keeping the take down secret be useful?

    Ok congratulations, you've just turned a law that would have had ~95% support into something that looks dodgy and creepy and reeks of nefarious purposes, and which will be opposed by 95% of the population. Well done team...

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      >Wait you want to make your use of these takedowns a secret? Why?

      I presume for the same reasons when the cops take down a 'criminal' and an agency steps in and slaps a "national security" blanket over the event. Which means surely, that the existing legislation provides the police with the necessary powers?

  6. Arachnoid

    Design

    If someone wanted to conceal a drone they would make it look like a large Bird such as a Seagull or American Eagle. I really cant see the pointof this Bill, if the device is a threat then its open to capture or destruction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

      @arachnoid

      "If someone wanted to conceal a drone they would make it look like a large Bird such as a Seagull or American Eagle."

      Exactly!

      And because the backlash of us shooting down the American eagle would be devastating we need to keep this a secret at all times.

      -- Uncle Sam

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    overseas

    According to unreleased legislative text, terrorists have been using drones overseas air to drop explosives overseas air...

    just being obvious. /joke

  8. Christoph

    "concern has been mounting that drones will be used to kill civilians in the US as they've been doing elsewhere in the world.

    FBI director Christopher Wray last year warned the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that he expects terrorists will attempt to use drones in the US."

    Kill civilians in funny foreign countries using drones controlled from a comfy video-games console thousands of miles away = brave noble hero.

    Kill Americans using drones = terrorist.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You missed one.

      Kill civilians in funny foreign countries using drones controlled from a comfy video-games console thousands of miles away = brave noble hero.

      Kill [Russians | Chinese | Iranians] using drones == brave noble here.

  9. x 7

    "the proposed DHS rules"

    DHS? Isn't that a courier company?

    1. Sparkypatrick
      Coat

      @ x7

      No, you're thinking of DHL. DHS is a furniture company. Of course they don't like drones. It's not like they're going to be any use for delivering sofas.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ironical really

    So let me understand this.

    Drones - Can be used to commit crime and kill people - We must control these suckers

    Guns - Can be used to commit crime and kill people - How dare you try and control access to these

    America - where Irony goes to die

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Ironical really

      Ever so slightly off topic, but following on from your comment - i see that after Florida passed laws to restrict access to firearms for those under 21. The NRA is suing Florida for restricting young people's freedom to own guns. If they can sue on those grounds, how come Alcohol manufacturers cant sue on the same grounds ? Those damn alcohol laws mean Kids cant start drinking (legally) until their 21, thats a restriction on their freedoms that is...

      1. Baldrickk

        Re: Ironical really

        Because alcohol isn't in the Constitution or one of its amendments?

        Personally, I'd like to see someone say

        "no, we're not going to take away your right to bear arms, but we've been having a think about it. The intention at the time was to allow you all to carry muskets, so we're going to honour that. The only gun ownership now allowed is muskets. Those of you who love your guns still have access to those enshrined by the Constitution, and concealed carry and semi/full automatic slaughters will become a thing of the past.

        We are sure that everyone will see the benefits all round"

        It's never going to happen, but I would love to see it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ironical really

          "The intention at the time was to allow you all to carry muskets"

          The intention at the time was to allow private citizens to carry the same state of the art weaponry that the armies of the day used.

          Unfortunately, that right has been eroded. Restoring the full 2nd amendment would open up private ownership of all sorts of interesting and potentially useful items.

          1. JohnFen

            Re: Ironical really

            "Restoring the full 2nd amendment would open up private ownership of all sorts of interesting and potentially useful items."

            It would not. The 2nd amendment does not provide for any right to private firearm ownership. It provides the right to have an armed and well-regulated militia. The NRA always seems to omit the part that includes the regulations.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Ironical really

              JohnFen wrote "2nd amendment does not provide for any right to private firearm ownership. It provides the right to have an armed and well-regulated militia"

              In the 1700s, "well-regulated" meant "well trained." It's impossible to be well trained with firearms if the government confiscates them.

              1. JohnFen

                Re: Ironical really

                "In the 1700s, "well-regulated" meant "well trained." It's impossible to be well trained with firearms if the government confiscates them."

                Up until the NRA lost its mind around the 1970s and started their ongoing propaganda campaign, this was not how anyone outside the lunatic fringe interpreted it at all. In fact, if you look at the actual debates at the time the amendment was being written, that isn't what the thinking was even then.

                They were talking about actual militias -- that is, community organizations that, yes, were well-trained, but were also regulated by law. The were not talking about some sort of universal right to have firearms outside of that framework.

                In fact, this point was so important to them that while they had the "well regulated militia" part in the middle of the sentence originally, they felt it was better to make it the very first words in the amendment, just to reinforce this point.

                Whether or not people should be allowed to have firearms outside of the framework of a genuine militia was thought to be a state issue, not a federal one, and therefore is not covered at all by the Constitution.

                Also, just as an aside, nobody outside of a tiny number of extremists is even remotely interested in confiscating weapons. What people are interested in is regulating them so as to prevent abuse. Just like we regulate motor vehicle ownership.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ironical really

          Baldrickk wrote "The intention at the time was to allow you all to carry muskets"

          So you'd be okay with freedom of speech laws which specifically exclude the Internet, telephones, radio, television, anything wireless, satellites, cables, etc., because they weren't invented in the 1700s?

      2. Someone Else Silver badge

        @glethal -- Re: Ironical really

        Simples: We here in the Colonies don't have a Constitutional right to get sloshed.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ironical really

      "America - where Irony goes to die"

      Firearms can be used for self-defense, and are used thousands of times each year in the U.S. (search on "gary kleck firearms defense" for studies), while it is difficult to create a use case for drones being useful for self-defense.

      1. hammarbtyp

        Re: Ironical really

        Firearms can be used for self-defense, and are used thousands of times each year in the U.S. (search on "gary kleck firearms defense" for studies), while it is difficult to create a use case for drones being useful for self-defense.

        As you probably know well this study is controversial and in no way can be considered definitive.

        For example this quote

        According to Klecks survey more than 50 percent of respondents claim to have reported their defensive gun use to the police. This means we should find at least half of his 2.5 million annual Defensive Gun Uses (DGUs) in police reports alone. Instead, the most comprehensive nonpartisan effort to catalog police and media reports on DGUs by The Gun Violence Archive was barely able to find 1,600 in 2014. Where are the remaining 99.94 percent of Kleck’s supposed DGUs hiding?

        While I would not dismiss any such study out of hand, when the figures cannot be cross referenced and verified and the sample size is small and biased, it would be naive to take it at face value.

        However I would love to see a proper government funded study on gun violence in the US, something the CDC is at present banned from doing for some reason...

        As for drones being used for self defence, well I'm sure there is a case to be made for a couple of predator drones to keep all those Mexican Rapists of your well manicured lawns...

    3. Fungus Bob
      Happy

      Re: Ironical really

      "Drones - Can be used to commit crime and kill people - We must control these suckers

      Guns - Can be used to commit crime and kill people - How dare you try and control access to these"

      Makes perfect sense - we use the guns to shoot the drones! Problem solved.

  11. Alister

    Why now?

    Radio-controlled aircraft, helicopters, boats etc have been around - and easily available off the shelf - for at least 30 years, and nobody's given a shit.

    The task to make one of them able to deliver a terrorist payload is no different to that involved in modifying a quadcopter, and in fact most R/C aircraft have a much better range than your average "drone", so why is it suddenly a problem?

    1. handleoclast

      Re: Why now?

      Amazon, eBay and increasingly powerful microprocessors.

      Drones have become ubiquitous and deskilled to the point where any moron can operate one with little or no training. They pretty much fly themselves and they're cheap.

      1. x 7

        Re: Why now?

        "Drones have become ubiquitous and deskilled to the point where any moron can operate one with little or no training. They pretty much fly themselves and they're cheap."

        So why not just use trained pigeons if you want to blow something up?

        Train a flock of pigeons to understand that military uniform=food

        Attach small bombs, then let a few hundred birds loose. Would totally overwhelm the defences, would be cheao, and it would be a productive way to get rid of flying rats

        1. handleoclast

          Re: Why now?

          So why not just use trained pigeons if you want to blow something up?

          This was actually considered by the US military at one point. Touch-sensitive TV screen. Pigeon trained to peck at a particular building. Fore-runner of the cruise missile.

          Problem is, it takes time to train pigeons. Once trained they're only useful for the target they were trained on. Once you've written the s/w to keep a drone stable and to navigate between set points you can copy it to a fleet of drones and then get a guy to direct it to a chosen target, perhaps even a moving target.

          Payload size and weight is also an issue.

          1. defiler
            Coat

            Re: Why now?

            Payload size and weight is also an issue.

            African or European pigeon? :-/

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Why now?

          "So why not just use trained pigeons if you want to blow something up?"

          Because mortars or rockets are easier and more effective, and fertilizer + heating oil makes a much bigger bang.

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Why now?

      Radio-controlled aircraft,

      You missed the point. The technology to have these navigate autonomously over a reasonable distance has become off-the-shelf in the last decade. Both the hardware and the software part.

    3. Daniel 18

      Re: Why now?

      "so why is it suddenly a problem?"

      A combination of internet / media hype, habitual hysteria (since 2001), inability to accurately assess real risks, and politically motivated security theater.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Howcould this possibly be misused?

    Crazy scenario I know, after it will never happen, but hypothetically....public demo where protesters are filming the actions of the Police and the state, and the police don't like it, so shoot it down on, you know, National Security grounds.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Howcould this possibly be misused?

      "Crazy scenario I know, after it will never happen, but hypothetically....public demo where protesters are filming the actions of the Police and the state, and the police don't like it, so shoot it down on, you know, National Security grounds."

      Go looking on youtube and you will find this exact event on video.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have my drones like my bikes and side jobs

    Keep em small and off the radar. what big guv doesn't know about, cant hurt me :P

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have my drones like my bikes and side jobs

      "Keep em small and off the radar"

      These laws are going to produce a raft of different but highly capable 245g drones.

  14. JohnFen

    No reason for secrecy

    "And they would exempt any actions taken along these lines from legally mandated disclosure requirements, at a federal, state, or Native American tribal level, such as the Freedom of Information Act."

    What is the rationale for this? I honestly can't think of a single legitimate reason why these actions should be exempt.

  15. Stevie

    Bah!

    I guess the reason that congress wants to talk about this but NOT about the Autonomous Car Hacked & Re-Tasked As A Low Speed Nap-Of-Earth Cruise Missile is that you can't shoot a car down with a gun.

    Oh Well. I'm glad they have their eyes firmly on the prize.

    You know, as a snowflake liberal I'd be happy to support conservative ideas if they didn't always seem to start out by declaring the whole thing must be done in secret or that it should contravene the provisions of the law sans penalties or that anyone involved should be granted immunity before they start. I never saw a bunch of people so loud about making America Great Again while simultaneously turning off all the bits that made it work in the first place.

    1. notowenwilson

      Re: Bah!

      To be fair you can stop a car with a gun, or just a big concrete planter box.

  16. iowe_iowe

    Three years ago now, I was riding through the Nevada desert on a dead straight road at a little over UK M'way speeds. We had seen no other vehicle anywhere for at least half an hour, until we got stopped by a waiting county sheriff. Turns out we were tracked by drone. Stupid of us to think we could break the law, it's increasingly difficult not to comply.

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