California turns to blocking technology to turn off annoying drones

California lawmakers are considering using blocking technology to disable drones that interfere with firefighting work, even though federal regulations prohibit use.


Two bills introduced this week in the California legislature include jail time and stiffer fines for the misuse of drones, as well as allowing first responders to damage or disrupt drones that hinder their work.

The bill, proposed by Senator Ted Gaines and MP Mike Gatto, follows an incident in which drones disrupted firefighting operations in the Los Angeles area. The presence of unmanned aerial vehicles was a hazard and was a brief impediment to the deployment of helicopters carrying water to extinguish the fire.

In addition to public awareness campaigns on the dangers of drones, lawmakers believe that more powerful tools are needed.

“The authors hope and hear that effective cell phone jammer technology can keep drones out of emergency response areas and flight trajectories,” the Gaines office said in a statement.

Like Wi-Fi, drones use radio waves to function, as well as GPS signals. A signal jammer may emit radio frequency waves that prevent devices within range from establishing and maintaining connections. They can be used to block calls and messages to mobile devices, as well as to block Wi-Fi and GPS signals.

But since jammers are generally blind and affect all devices in a region, US federal law prohibits them from commercialization, sale, and use on public or private property. Offenders can receive heavy fines or jail time. Although there are limited exceptions for the use of jammers by authorized federal agencies, states and local governments are not allowed to use them, according to the US Federal Communications Commission.

“The use of cellular drone jammers poses an unacceptable risk to public safety,” according to a document from the FAQ on jammers written by the FCC Law Enforcement Office.

We do not see how California could get around prohibition. Gaines and Gatto were not immediately available to answer questions about the bill.

The bill that would allow firefighters to deactivate drones would also compensate them for damaging recreational drones used to capture fire videos. In a video posted on YouTube last month, firefighters spray a drone hovering over a burning house.

In a Twitter message, the San Bernardino County Fire Department reminded drone operators to avoid active fires. It contains a video from the US Department of Agriculture that warns of the dangers to firefighters and residents, as well as the penalties imposed by the US Federal Aviation Administration.