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US government is cutting the wings of its civilian drone program on Chinese fear of espionage

US government is cutting the wings of its civilian drone program used to monitor endangered species and map landscapes over Chinese fear of espionage

  • The 1,000 strong drone fleet was temporarily grounded back in October 2019
  • The ban now appears to be permanent, except in emergencies
  • The Chinese company DJI, who built 121 of the drones, claims that no fear has been found
  • However, the US military banned all DJI drone technology and technology as early as 2017
  • Homeland Security has said that they are ‘reasonably confident’ DJI is leaking data

The government of the United States must cut off the wings of its civilian drone program in the midst of constant fear that China might co-opt the technology to conduct espionage.

Part of the nearly 1000-strong drone fleet – used for various tasks such as monitoring endangered species and mapping landscapes – was made by the Chinese company DJI.

The movement – where the drones are likely to fly only in emergency situations, for example to help the fire brigade – builds on the temporary ban that began in October 2019.

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The United States Government must cut the wings of its civilian drone program amid constant fear that China might co-opt the technology to conduct espionage (stock image)

The United States Government must cut the wings of its civilian drone program amid constant fear that China might co-opt the technology to conduct espionage (stock image)

WHAT IS DJI?

DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd is a Chinese technology company based in Shenzhen, in the province of Guangdong.

The acronym DJI stands for ‘Dà-Jiāng Innovations’.

DJI has factories worldwide.

The company is a world leader in the civilian drone industry and represents approximately 70 percent of the total market.

DJI has been accused by the US Department of Homeland Security of transferring US data to Chinese authorities.

According to the Financial times, the risk is simply too high that the Chinese government will use the drones to gather information about the US.

While it seems that a definitive policy still needs to be formulated, US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is expected to limit the use of the drone fleet to addressing emergencies – such as to support fire-fighting efforts.

With the drones on the ground, US authorities will either have to turn to drones made in America, abandon aspects of projects that were dependent on drone support, or else depending on the more expensive and riskier use of crew aircraft.

According to Engadget, the Shenzhen-based DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd – which built 121 of the drones in the civilian fleet – is keen to scrutinize the US government’s assessment of the drone program.

Allegedly there is “a lack of credible evidence” to support the grounding of drones made in China.

Employees of the US Department of the Interior are also reportedly disappointed with the plans to ground the drones, which perform various useful tasks.

The Fish and Wildlife service has already had to cancel drone flights that would have contributed to the counting of animals and the monitoring of controlled forest fires, the Financial Times reported.

The US Geological Survey has meanwhile engaged drones for agricultural monitoring, preparation for earthquakes and flood control measures.

The Ministry of Homeland Security claimed in 2017 – with “moderate confidence” – that DJI “provides critical Chinese infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government,” Engadget reported at the time

The mothballing of the American drone fleet would not be without precedent.

For example, in 2017, the US military stopped all use of DJI drones and associated technology.

“Because of the increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, the US military is supposed to stop using all DJI products,” a memo leaked sUAS news explained.

“End all use, remove all DJI applications, remove all batteries / storage media from devices and secure directional tracking devices,” the memo added.

The Department of Homeland Security also claimed – with “moderate confidence” – that DJI “provides critical US infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government,” Engadget reported later that year.

However, there is no public evidence that China has obtained data from such drones.

The MailOnline has contacted the US Department of the Interior for comments.

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