NFL fears ‘outrageous’ drones, seeks law to thwart stadium dangers

The NFL’s chief of security watches the skies as America’s most popular sport begins its season in stadiums across the country.

“I’m concerned about the infamous actor, quite frankly,” Chief Security Cathy Lanier said, discussing unauthorized drones flying around National League matches. She said a malicious factor could cause “disastrous results”.

Last season, the NFL counted about 1,400 incursions by drones during flight restrictions over and around stadiums. Drones have also disturbed, and sometimes threatened, Major League Baseball and other professional and collegiate sports.

Potential threats can range from an accidental drone crash to a mass attack.

The local officials who protect most of the rides lack the legal authority to take down dangerous drones. Federal officials guarding the biggest events have the authority to intercept drones — usually by hacking controls or jamming communication signals — but it is set to expire Oct.

The Biden administration wants Congress to step in before power falls with a bill that would expand anti-drone authority and extend some anti-drone powers to local law enforcement. But privacy and civil liberties advocates have concerns, and the bill’s fate remains unknown.

Joey Wendell of the Tampa Bay Rays notes that the team’s game against the New York Yankees has been postponed due to a drone flying over the field at Yankee Stadium on September 2, 2020, in New York City.

Photo: Sarah Steer/Getty Images

‘A matter of time’

The NFL 2022 season begins Thursday night when the defending champions Los Angeles Rams host the Buffalo Bills at the 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium in Englewood, California, followed by a full slate of games on Sunday and Monday.

Under federal law, drones cannot fly within three miles of a stadium during a major sporting event, which applies to NFL, MLB, NCAA Division 1, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Car and Champ Series football, a Federal Aviation spokesperson said. Administration. Violations can result in civil penalties of up to $37,377 and a possible criminal prosecution.

But the restrictions are limited – they start only an hour before the event begins and elapse an hour after it ends. Gates to major events can open hours in advance, and thousands of fans are coming out of NFL stadiums before and after games, Mike McCormick, legal counsel for the Stadium Managers Association, said.

“The attitude of most of the stadium folks I’ve spoken to over the years is that it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong,” McCormick said.

While federal restrictions apply at all NFL stadiums, they only cover stadiums of 30,000 or more spectators. This leaves minor league baseball stadiums and many other big events across the country.

Meanwhile, the use of drones is increasing, with 860,000 registered in the United States today. The United States could have more than 2.6 million drones by 2025, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Last year saw the highest number of unauthorized drone sightings reported to the FAA, with 2,595. Foot From pilots, law enforcement and citizens. The data includes only what eagle watchers say, often about the A/C.

Drones have been used to conduct illegal surveillance, smuggle goods across borders, and deliver contraband to prisons. They also endangered passenger planes. Drone has crashed A Black Hawk helicopter patrols a temporary no-fly zone around New York City in 2017. Others flew over airports, halting takeoffs and landings.

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security umbrella

Owns the NFL, MLB, NCAA, and NASCAR urge Lawmakers are moving quickly on anti-drone legislation to help unions manage a range of threats.

In 2017, a drone dropped leaflets at California NFL fans attending the San Francisco 49ers game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, and the Oakland Raiders against the Denver Broncos at the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. An illegal flight over Target Field in Minneapolis halted an MLB game between the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates for nine minutes in 2020, one of several raids on MLB stadiums.

The White House proposal would provide counter-drone powers to 60 state, local, tribal or regional law enforcement agencies over five years.

This would expand the “security canopy” against illegal use of drones and help deter bad actors and harmless operators alike, said Steve Caroley, a former Transportation Security Administration official who is now executive vice president at K2 Security Screening Group. .

In August, a Senate committee introduced a bill (Q 4687) Similar to the White House proposal.

But privacy advocates and some lawmakers worry it could be too intrusive. Senator. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), during a hearing this summer, questioned why the proposal did not include a lapse clause that would force lawmakers to reconsider the scope of future anti-drone powers.

Jeramy Scott, senior advisor to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the bill would give local law enforcement “a significant amount of power to identify threats and give them a significant amount of power in terms of how they would respond to this perceived threat”. “On the flip side, there’s not a lot of purposeful supervision.”

advanced threats

Several federal agencies have anti-drone authorities and use them to secure high-profile events, including the Super Bowl. But under current law, local law enforcement and state authority are powerless to land a suspicious drone flying over a toy.

The Department of Justice said in 2020 that local officials lack the authority to intercept drones because “accidental misuse could cause as much damage as hostile drones.” Report.

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Lanier, who was the police chief in Washington, D.C. for nearly a decade before joining the NFL, has spent years worrying about potential threats to the many large rallies taking place in the nation’s capital.

“The frustration is twofold: keeping up with technology so we have the technology to address threats as they evolve, but we also have legislation to support our ability to keep up with that threat,” she said.

Some places have installed detection technology. The Maryland Stadium Authority last year brought in the Aerial Armor drone detection company and now has an antenna that can locate the drone and its operator.

Within a month, Vernon Conway, vice president of public safety and security for the Maryland Stadium Authority, which covers sites used by the Baltimore Orioles and the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, said that within a month, it had located two entertainment operators who had flown unauthorized drones. It has a football field.

Conway said current tools work well for managing amateur pilots but are “less effective against credible drone threats where the pilot is a bad player or trying to evade law enforcement and security.”

A drone flies over Fenway Park during a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox, causing a short delay on August 13, 2020 in Boston.

Photo: Catherine Riley/Getty Images

Movie plot scenarios

The legislation under consideration would exempt officials who shoot down dangerous drones from the provisions of the Wiretapping Act and the Aircraft Sabotage Act. Critics say the exemptions are too broad given the relatively early stages of UAV and drone technology.

“It’s not really a good idea to give the government blanket authority for a technology we don’t know how it’s going to be used,” EPIC’s Scott said. “This only exposes you to abuse in the future.”

ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley acknowledged that drones can pose threats and that Congress may need to update laws accordingly, but argued that proponents of the legislation warn of dire “film plot scenarios” that may or may not reflect reality.

Stanley said local authorities could abuse drone powers to impede legitimate news gathering and other legal activities.

He said Congress should assess the actual current risks from drones, narrow down who is entitled to act, and include a provision that would require lawmakers to reconsider that analysis over time and ensure that powers granted to law enforcement are in line with the level of risk.

Several groups, including the ACLU, say that administration officials only consulted with them after the legislative proposal was drafted. With the proposal already in progress in the Senate, they are pressing House lawmakers — working on their own version — to incorporate more barriers of protection.

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Department officials say they are keen to strike the right balance and believe they have done so by proposing a small-scale pilot program rather than sweeping new powers into each local police department.

Josh Geltzer, an adviser on the White House National Security Council, said of the law enforcement agencies that will be involved in the pilot.

He added that curtailing the proposed expansion of anti-drone powers to manage some of the concerns on Capitol Hill would be unfortunate, “because the state needs to get state and local entities more in the game in addressing drone-related threats, as this pilot program will take a major step forward in the work “.

Consequences ‘far from us’

The NFL’s Lanier said the program would operate like existing partnerships between the federal government and state and local agencies, including joint counterterrorism task forces run by the FBI with specially trained local officers.

“The federal authorities that currently have this authority do not have the bandwidth to cover all mass gatherings,” she said.

Disagreements over the appropriate scope of the legislation may lead to divergent approaches in the House and Senate. This road to traffic is held as the October 5 expiration date looms for current federal authorities.

Ken Edmonds, the NFL’s vice president of government affairs, said the league is lobbying House lawmakers on the issue and hopes Congress will take “appropriate action, to say the least, to expand existing powers.”

“The consequences are far beyond us,” Lanier said of the impending deadline. “If this earlier legislation expired in October – and those authorities are there – they had problems in February for the Super Bowl.”