Drone Jamming Illegal for Utah Law Enforcement

Even to disable drones that are being used illegally, Utah law enforcement is not allowed to engage in drone jamming as it it against federal law.

Benefits of unmanned aircrafts

Photo by: Ed Schipol

Drones, otherwise known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) have been continuing to increase in popularity by professionals and amateurs alike. As drones continue to hit markets at cheaper prices than in years past, more and more Utah residents of all ages are adopting the new hobby. Not only is drone flying fun, it can also be helpful in certain professions.
– Farmers can use drones to check on crops and livestock;
– Law enforcement can use drones to search for a missing child or a fugitive;
– Structural engineers and inspectors can use drones to safely inspect a large scale infrastructure;
– Drones can help local media obtain a visual on a story without putting the reporter in danger;
– Fire departments can use drones to get a better view of a hard-to-reach wildfire prior to sending in a land crew.

Drone laws

While drone flying can be fun and even beneficial, there are many times when flying a drone could put people in danger or pose a security risk. There are many laws in place to help prevent these situations from occurring. Utah state laws such as:

    • Not flying from a public transport station (72-14-403);
    • Not attaching a weapon to a drone (72-14-303);
    • Not flying a drone over a prison (72-14-304);
    • Staying clear of protected airspace such as those near airports (72-14-403)
    • Not flying over wildfire areas during temporary restrictions (65A-3-2.5).

There are also federal regulations users should obey in order to fly safely. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, recreational users should:

  • “Fly only for fun or recreation.
  • Follow the safety guidelines of a model aircraft community-based organization.
  • Fly at or below 400 feet when in uncontrolled airspace (Class G).
  • Fly within visual line-of-sight, meaning you as the drone operator use your own eyes and needed contacts or glasses (without binoculars), to ensure you can see your drone at all times.
  • Never fly near other aircraft.
  • Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people.
  • Never fly near or over emergency response efforts.”

When rules are broken

Anyone found breaking federal or state laws regarding drone use is subject to the punishments that accompanies that law. Although law enforcement can punish someone from breaking the law with a drone, they may not be able to actually stop some drone crimes from occurring. Last summer, Utah firefighters battling a devastating blaze in the Pine Valley Mountains of southern Utah had to stop their operations due to an unauthorized drone in the area as they feared the drone would collide with aircraft dropping fire retardant. Although the drone was over a wildfire illegally, fire officials could not stop the drone from flying in the restricted space. The Thanksgiving prior, a drone flew over a 49ers and Seahawks NFL game in California, dropping papers with conspiracy propaganda onto the crowd as security personnel looked on, helpless. The papers themselves were not harmful, albeit very annoying, however the fact that a personal drone could enter the airspace over thousands of people without being stopped is a frightening thought.

Stopping a drone

When a drone is found to be in a restricted airspace, officers can attempt to find the person responsible and have them remove the drone from the area. If the person controlling the unmanned aircraft is unable to be located, officers are limited in how to proceed. When a drone is in a restricted airspace or putting people in danger, the public expects law enforcement to use any means necessary to get the unmanned aircraft out of the air. Shooting at a moving object in the sky is not a viable option as it could end up putting more innocent people in danger. Drones with nets can be used if law enforcement have those specialty drones on hand. Drone jamming, or interrupting the frequency that the drone is on to bring them safely “home” or to the ground would appear to be the most simple and effective way to bring the drone down. Unfortunately, drone jamming is illegal.

Drone Jamming

A drone is considered an unmanned aircraft and as such, jamming its frequency is a federal offense. The tools used for drone jamming can also be used to block other frequencies as well.The FCC stated “The use of “cell jammers” or similar devices designed to intentionally block, jam, or interfere with authorized radio communications (signal blockers, GPS jammers, or text stoppers, etc.) is a violation of federal law. . . These devices pose serious risks to critical public safety communications, and can prevent you and others from making 9-1-1 and other emergency calls. Jammers can also interfere with law enforcement communications.”

Limited options for law enforcement and the public

There have been several almost solutions (such as Utah’s own H.B.420 of 2016) that have been introduced regarding safely removing drones that pose a safety risk. Many of these potential solutions failed to pass however. A step in the right direction, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 was passed to at least let the military to disable drones. While the government can use this new technology that is increasing in effectiveness and accuracy, local law enforcement is still left to watch and wait. While the police wait for drone jamming technology to become readily available to them, recreational drone pilots are asked to respect the laws regarding drone use. For more information on drone laws or for to legal assistance regarding drone law violations, contact a criminal defense attorney.