Today’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly referred to as “drones,” have evolved considerably in just the last few years and are becoming more common in our airspace. UAS now have longer flight durations, larger payloads, and more sophisticated maneuverability. The rapid development of UAS technology offers substantial benefits for our society and economy, as UAS technology may transform the delivery of goods and the provision of countless services, ranging from inspection of critical infrastructure to delivery of life-saving medical devices. Just as personal and commercial use of UAS continues to expand and evolve, law enforcement and public safety use of UAS likewise continues to grow. Law enforcement agencies across the country have recognized that UAS can be an important tool in advancing their public safety missions while reducing risk to personnel and the public. To take full advantage of this promising technology requires identifying best practices for the law enforcement use of UAS, as well as implementing appropriate policies and safeguards to protect privacy and civil liberties.
UAS technology also raises new risks, as criminals and terrorists can exploit UAS in ways that pose a threat to the safety of the American people. The UAS threat takes a number of potential forms, including illicit surveillance; chemical, biological, and radiological attacks; kinetic attacks on large open-air venues, such as concerts, ceremonies, and sporting events; and attacks against government facilities, installations, and personnel. In addition, drug traffickers use UAS to smuggle narcotics across borders, and criminals use UAS to deliver contraband inside federal and state prisons. Accordingly, law enforcement must be able to protect the public from the threat of unlawful and malicious UAS.
Under the direction of the Deputy Attorney General, the Office of Legal Policy chairs the Department’s UAS Working Group, which is responsible for coordinating and discussing matters relating to the use of UAS and efforts to counter the threat of malicious UAS. The working group includes representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the United States Marshals Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Bureau of Prisons; the Office of the Deputy Attorney General; the Office of Legal Policy; the National Security Division; the Criminal Division; the Executive Office for United States Attorneys; the Office of Justice Programs; the Office of Community Oriented Policing; the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties; the Office of the Chief Information Officer; and the Office of Legislative Affairs.