The U.S. intelligence community believes that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) receives and uses information about the country’s people and internal infrastructure. This information is collected and sent by drones that travel around the country.
In response to this national security risk, Republican lawmakers in Congress asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in a letter, to launch an investigation into the CCP’s sophisticated spying operations, according to The Washington Free Beacon of Aug. 11.
“In order to protect national security and the privacy of American citizens, and to protect the essential domestic [drone] industry, we ask that you engage all the appropriate divisions within the Department of Commerce to immediately investigate the national security implications of the importation of [drones] manufactured in the People’s Republic of China [the CCP] and determine any necessary enforcement measures,” the lawmakers wrote on Aug. 5.
Specifically, the authorities are paying attention to the company Da Jiang Innovations (DJI), which supplies about 80% of U.S. drone sales.
DJI donated 100 drones to 45 police, fire, and public safety organizations in 22 states on April 1, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) reported.
Given spying concerns, the U.S. Department of the Interior halted its entire fleet of 800 drones in October because they were manufactured at companies dependent on the CCP or with parts supplied by these manufacturers, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).
However, the drones used for emergency response were kept in service.
The House Judiciary Committee also launched an investigation on May 13 into the use of drones produced by companies dependent on the CCP, which could send national-security-sensitive data to the CCP.
The background into suspected spying goes back to 2017 when the National Security Investigations unit—part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—issued a DJI alert.
This company “is selectively targeting government and privately owned entities within [the infrastructure and law enforcement sectors] to expand their ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data,” ICE warned.
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) warned in May 2019 that drones originating from China pose a “potential risk to an organization’s information.”
Responding to all these national security concerns, the U.S. Army, the Department of the Interior, and other federal departments and agencies banned the use of the DJI drones.
Moreover, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 prohibited the purchase and use of these devices.
Remote-controlled drones are used to help extinguish forest fires, monitor damage caused by land erosion, and monitor dams and floods.
They are also used to track endangered species, assist in search and rescue of people, and mitigate various natural disasters.