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Subcommittee Chairmen D’Esposito, Pfluger Deliver Opening Statements in Hearing on the Impact of Drones on Law Enforcement

May 16, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) and Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX) delivered the following opening statements in a hearing during National Police Week to examine how first responders are using unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, to improve public safety in communities throughout the nation, while considering possible national security vulnerabilities and privacy concerns.


Watch Subcommittee Chairman D’Esposito’s opening statement here.

As prepared for delivery:

Welcome to our witnesses. Thank you for testifying before the Subcommittees on Emergency Management and Technology and Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence, as we examine the use of unmanned aerial systems, or drones, in emergency response and their impact on U.S. law enforcement. I commend each of you for your dedication to improving public safety throughout this great Nation, and we look forward to hearing your testimony.

In honor of National Police Week, I also want to thank our nation’s police officers for their service and commitment to keeping our communities safe. As a retired NYPD detective, I know first-hand that justice is upheld only because of their bravery, dedication, and sacrifice. Americans can freely live their lives and sleep well at night because of the unwavering work of our police forces to uphold our laws and make our communities safer.

As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology, I am committed to supporting our state and local law enforcement officials and ensuring that our Nation’s bravest have the resources and technologies they need. I have been a supporter of FEMA’s suite of preparedness grants for states and localities to harden their defenses against the threat of terrorism, and I hope to hear how state and local police departments are using these grants to acquire drones and other emerging technologies to improve police operations and prepare for new challenges.

Throughout the Nation, an estimated 1,400 public safety agencies are actively using drones to enhance their operational capabilities.Cities throughout the country have implemented Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs to provide police departments with tactical intelligence and situational awareness that informs police operations and emergency response on the ground.

In my home state of New York, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has used drones to assist with search and rescue efforts, inspect emergency incidents, and provide intelligence for hostage situations, to name only a few. More recently, following the April earthquake that occurred in New Jersey, the NYPD partnered with the NYC Department of Buildings, and used its drones to inspect local bridges for any structural defects. It is clear that the use of UAS technology has the potential to reform the way that police departments operate, and I am looking forward to learning how UAS technology cuts emergency response times, saves local taxpayer dollars, and enhances police department operations.

Drones have the potential to save lives by delivering medical support in rural or densely populated urban areas. Tragically, in 2022, over 75,000 people died from opioids. However, by dropping naloxone, a life-saving nasal spray, drones could improve emergency response times by arriving on the scene faster than an ambulance. As such, the benefits of drone-use in emergency response are far-reaching.

As police departments look to expand their use of UAS technology, it is important that they take stock of any unintended national security concerns. According to January 2024 guidance released by the FBI and the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Chinese-made drones present risks to U.S. national security. However, Chinese-based drone manufacturer, DJI, makes up the majority of the U.S.’ commercial market, and due to its advanced features and affordability, has become increasingly used among public safety agencies. It is important that the federal government and the intelligence community continue to share guidance and relevant security information so that law enforcement agencies and first responders are able to take necessary precautions while not stifling innovative tools.

Further, it is important for Congress to examine any regulatory barriers to public safety agencies when looking to utilize emerging technologies. We need to ensure that those on the front lines keeping our communities safe don’t have to jump through hoops to be able to use the best tools available.

UAS technology has the potential to save lives through efficient response times, providing medical care and offering operational support to police officers on the ground. I look forward to examining how public safety technology has complimented U.S. law enforcement and what the future could hold. I commend those serving in uniform for their relentless pursuit to save lives and improve emergency response through using drones and other emerging technology.

Thank you again to our witnesses here today and I look forward to hearing your testimony.


Watch Subcommittee Chairman Pfluger’s opening statement here.

As prepared for delivery:

We are holding this important hearing to examine how first responders are using unmanned aerial systems, or drones, to improve public safety in communities throughout the United States, while considering security vulnerabilities and privacy concerns.

The use of drones by first responders represents a paradigm shift in our country. The ability of drones to access remote or hazardous areas, gather real-time intelligence, and provide aerial support in emergency situations has proved invaluable.

In recent years, first responders have increasingly turned to drones to amplify their operations, response times, efficiency, and safety. Law enforcement agencies utilize drones in various ways, from Special Weapons and Tactics or SWAT operations to search and rescue missions, as well as to provide situational awareness and added community safety for major events like the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, and many other major events, where tens of thousands of Americans attend. Law enforcement agencies are also bringing policing to the future with programs like Mobile Drones as a First Responder, a program to kit out marked patrol units with drones to respond to urgent calls like foot pursuits or violent crimes in progress.

Drones are also utilized in emergency responses to establish situational awareness of various incidents. For instance, both rural and urban fire departments utilize drones to provide real-time information to reveal the extent of a fire’s spread on a burning building. All in all, drones can provide key data to our first responders, allowing for effective decision-making, and assisting in public safety and saving lives.

While drones are used for emergency responses, recreational use, or for research and commerce purposes, the proliferation of this emerging technology has also introduced new risks to homeland security and privacy.

In particular, malicious actors have used drones domestically to commit crimes, conduct illegal surveillance, industrial espionage, and hinder law enforcement efforts at all levels. Additionally, malicious drone operators continue to attempt to target and disrupt critical infrastructure sectors. For example, the energy and chemical sectors often report suspicious activity by drones, including in my home state of Texas.

Criminals, including drug cartels, regularly use drones for smuggling contraband into prisons, cross-border trafficking, and surveillance of U.S. law enforcement. Customs and Border Protection officials have consistently raised concern that Mexican narco-terrorist gangs are utilizing weaponized drones only a short distance from the U.S. southwest border to conduct nefarious activities. We must do everything we can to protect against these threats.

We must also do everything we can to protect against potential threats to U.S. critical infrastructure and other matters posed by drones that are manufactured in foreign adversarial countries, like the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In fact, DJI, a Shenzhen-based company, is a Chinese-based drone manufacturer that controls nearly the entire global drone market.

While DJI has received the most attention from Congress given the company’s dominant market position, Autel—a drone technology company also headquartered in Shenzhen, China—has increased its footprint in the United States, which is equally concerning.

The extensive deployment of Chinese-manufactured drones in the U.S. critical sectors is a national security concern, and it may increase the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive systems and data.

Multiple U.S. federal departments and agencies have already warned against or banned the procurement of certain drones originating in the PRC, in recognition of the threats they pose.

Most recently, in January 2024, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation shared that Chinese-manufactured UAS pose a threat to critical infrastructure and provided guidance for drone procurement. The advisory, in part, states that, “the use of Chinese-manufactured UAS [drones] in critical infrastructure operations risks exposing sensitive information to PRC authorities, jeopardizing U.S. national security, economic security, and public health and safety.” Further, the Department of Commerce placed DJI on the Entity List, and the Department of the Treasury placed DJI on the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s list of Chinese technology businesses that have a nexus to the PRC’s military-industrial complex.

These lists restrict U.S.-based business investments in DJI due to claims of support of human rights abuses against China’s Uyghur Muslim minority.

State Local Tribal and Territorial law enforcement agencies nationwide have increasingly turned to DJI drones without adequately considering the potential cybersecurity risks and broader national security implications. Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi have all successfully taken steps to prevent law enforcement agencies in their state from procuring drones that are manufactured in the People’s Republic of China. I would strongly urge other states to follow suit and find ways to not be dependent on PRC-manufactured drones.

As has been stated before, “It is not good public policy to rely upon the goodwill of a strategic foreign competitor, which is known for using supply chain control as a weapon of war and is beholden to PRC’s [People’s Republic of China’s] military and national security laws, for public safety drones.” I couldn’t agree anymore.

Moreover, under the PRC’s National Security Law from 2017, all Chinese organizations and citizens – including DJI and other Chinese drone manufacturers – are required to support, assist, and cooperate with the state intelligence work. More must be done to ensure that certain foreign adversarial countries, including the PRC, are unable to supply our U.S. government, law enforcement partners, and other entities, with their drones.

As the chair of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence, I plan to continue to examine these issues, and in particular, the potential national security threats posed by drones that have been produced, manufactured, or assembled in the PRC.

I look forward to hearing from this distinguished panel today and working in a bipartisan fashion to better understand this important matter and find solutions to address these cross-cutting public safety and national security issues.