Department of Homeland Security expresses concern over the use of drones for “harmful purposes.”
Near the end of the third quarter of last week’s NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, play was stopped by an object with flashing red and green lights hovering over the field.
The object was a drone, and it is illegal to fly over sporting events without prior permission, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which said it was investigating the incident.
While there are many benefits to drones, combating potentially harmful drones falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, according to Samantha Winograd, who serves as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention.
“We are concerned about the rapidly evolving technology associated with drones, and that they could be used for a variety of malicious purposes,” Winograd told ABC News in an interview.
She said the national airspace is “saturated” with drones and “a lot of malicious actors are also realizing the benefits that drones can provide.”
“We’ve seen an explosion in drone activity in the national airspace just from a volume perspective, and that’s because drones are so cheap to manufacture and the technology is really available and evolving rapidly,” she said.
Drone users are sometimes people who don’t realize they are flying in a restricted area, Winograd said.
“Sometimes these drones are recreational users who lose control of their drones. [but] “That doesn’t mean they’re not at risk. Other times, it can be harmful,” she added.
She said the department wants to ensure that “every community has the ability to responsibly detect and mitigate drone activity consistent with the same safeguards we already use at the federal level,” noting that DHS “cannot be everywhere.” “It’s just not possible.”
For large-scale events, such as the presidential inauguration and the Super Bowl, the department is on scene to help mitigate drone risks.
But DHS’s concerns extend beyond these large-scale events to include considerations such as routine presidential protection, southern border, and airport security.
Agents along the southern border encountered and disabled drones that were flying over contraband or enabling human trafficking, Winograd said.
DHS’s anti-drone countermeasures were extended through February by Congress, but Winograd is asking Congress to not only reauthorize the countermeasures, but also expand them to include TSA’s ability to mitigate drones.
At airports, the TSA has encountered 600 drones since 2018, underscoring the need for more robust security measures, according to Winograd.
“TSA does not have the authority to proactively detect and mitigate drones,” she said. “There are countless drone incidents in and around major airports every year. We’ve had actual commercial flights disrupted by drone activity. We’ve been grounded.”
Between January and July of this year, there were 302 drone accidents near the airport and 146 near the Core 30 airports, the largest airports in the country. In six of those cases, the planes had to change course to avoid colliding with the drone, Winograd said.
She said that if DHS does not reauthorize its program in February, it could be bad for the country’s national security.
“Think about whether the Department of Homeland Security has lost the ability for the most part to protect the president and the vice president,” she said. “What if DHS loses the ability to mitigate drone activity on the southwest border when there are drones carrying fentanyl and our officers have to monitor them? What if DHS loses the ability to mitigate drone activity at the New York City Marathon and whatnot? “Around? That’s a terrifying concept.”
This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com