Unmanned Aircraft Systems

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.

Department UAS and C-UAS Press Releases

Department of Justice Forecasts an Increase in Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) Protection Activities and Criminal Enforcement Actions, October 13, 2020

Interagency Issues Advisory on Use of Technology to Detect and Mitigate Unmanned Aircraft Systems, August 17, 2020

Attorney General Barr Issues Guidance to Protect Facilities from Unmanned Aircraft and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, April 13, 2020

Department of Justice Announces Update to Policy on Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, November 27, 2019

Department UAS and C-UAS Guidance

Attorney General’s Guidance Regarding Department Activities to Protect Certain Facilities or Assets from Unmanned Aircraft and Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Department Policy on the Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Justice Manual Section 95.100)

UAS and C-UAS Resources

Department of Justice Summary of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operations During Fiscal Year 2020

Advisory on the Application of Federal Laws to the Acquisition and Use of Technology to Detect and Mitigate Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Opportunities and Challenges Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems to Public Safety and Achieving Law Enforcement and National Security Goals

Drones: A Report on the Use of Drones by Public Safety Agencies – and a Wake-up Call about the Threat of Malicious Drone Attacks

Considerations and Recommendations for Implementing an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program

Updated April 20, 2021

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