Geofencing at the Southern Border

Several news outlets in September reported that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a temporary flight restriction (TFR) at the Del Río-Ciudad Acuña International Bridge near the Texas-Mexico border after the area was inundated with thousands of illegal immigrants. According to reports, news drones which had been recording the events were unable to fly as a result of “geofencing.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security (see Footnote 3), geofencing is a “technology that defines a virtual boundary around a real-world geographical area.” It uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network and/or local radio-frequency identifiers to create a virtual boundary around a location. The geofence is then paired with a hardware/software application that responds to the boundary as dictated by the parameters of the program.

According to the FAA, there are many types of U.S. airspace restrictions that could affect unmanned aerial system (UAS) flights, including the following:

  • Stadiums and Sporting Events
  • Airport Proximity
  • Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions
  • Restricted or Special Use Airspace
  • Washington, DC
  • Emergency and Rescue Operations
  • Emergency/Rescue Operations (e.g., wildfires, hurricanes)

National Security Journal submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for additional information regarding federal geofencing activities. The FAA replied that geofencing is a service provided by the UAS manufacturer and is not handled or regulated by the agency.

The FOIA response can be viewed in full here:  20211117 FAA Geofencing FOIA Response

Rick Newbold Written by:

Mr. Newbold has been working in the national security field since 2003 and has been an IAPP-certified privacy professional since 2007. He holds a JD from Regent University, an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management, and an LL.M. in National Security Law from Georgetown. Mr. Newbold is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Public Policy. He has contributed to several national-level documents and participates in a number of public policy-related working groups.

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