Drone Technology – Risks and Regulations

In recent years, the rapid advancement of technology in general has presented mounting problems to local, state and federal lawmakers.  But this issue is not a new one. The production of motor vehicles began in the 1890s, yet it took 11 years for the first U.S. state (New York) to establish legal requirements for automobile registration.   And it wasn’t until over 60 years later (1952) that the Feds stepped in with mandatory vehicle production standards. Likewise, the gap in time between the Wright brothers’ success in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and the establishment of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a span of 55 years, illustrates that perhaps we have an opportunity for improvement.  While there are a number of other, similar examples that might be cited, I wanted to take this opportunity to focus specifically on drones.

Though wildly popular for “selfie” photos amongst certain sectors of the public and heavily used by the military, the security applications and more importantly, the risks to security programs that this technology represents, seems to have gone largely unnoticed.  That’s hard to understand because the drone industry is currently estimated to have a US$2 billion value and it is expected to grow to US$10 billion by the end of 2020. And it isn’t as though drones haven’t been in the news. If you didn’t catch those reports, here are a few that are certainly worth noting:

Like almost any technology, drones present an opportunity for benefits as well as risks, depending on the intention of the pilot.  Present day, the regulations that address and control the use of drones are fairly sparse. The FAA stepped in early on as the governing body for concerns regarding the security of aircraft and airfields and has been instrumental in enacting the legislation that exists to date.  For example, Title 14, Section 107 of the FAA Code of Federal Regulationsaddresses the following for UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) with weights ranging from .55 lbs. (8.8 oz) to 55 lbs.:

  • Registration
  • Pilot licensing
  • Marked craft
  • Piloted line of sight
  • 400’ ceiling
  • Outside FAA restricted areas
  • Daytime only operations
  • Flying restrictions over persons, places and things

Though one might make an argument either for or against the sufficiency of these regulations, the greater concern lies with how any of the rules are going to be broadly enforced.  Local and state law enforcement agencies typically don’t seek to make federal cases. And if they do, they commonly work in collaboration with a federal agency. That would mean that the local city police officer would need to call the local FBI field office to charge someone with an infraction of the regulations.  This doesn’t seem like a very likely scenario.

While drones represent a serious and legitimate threat to both the public and private sectors, we’re still very limited with regulations to protect ourselves.  Too many times, it’s taken a tragedy to elevate an issue to public focus and compel lawmakers to act. But perhaps with initiative and action on the part of the security industry, we can avoid repeating history and waiting decades to adequately address a very real and quickly growing concern.

Glenn Sandford, CPP, is Director of Operations at AT-RISK International. He addressed a general session on drone technology during ISC West’s International Security Conference & Exhibition on April 11, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. For a copy of the presentation and for more information, please contact him at [email protected] or 1.877.323.2444.

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