The US Department of the Interior has halted the use of its civilian drones temporarily but it might not be long before it makes its suspension permanent.
China-made civilian drones to be banned permanently?
According to The Wall Street Journal, the department is planning to shut down the use of nearly 1,000 civilian drones after discovering the high risk involved in the Chinese government using the drones to spy on the US.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ordered the fleet to be grounded amid concerns that the drones, which are manufactured by China-based companies would allow China to use tech manufactured by them to spy on users.
The civilian drones, which are often used to monitor endangered species, inspect federally protected land and fight forest fires, will be restricted for use only in emergency situations until potential security risks are fully reviewed.
How is DJI involved?
It is not yet known whether any particular incident or activity from the drones alarmed the Department of the Interior or if the use of drones was suspended owing to the fact that they're manufactured by China-based DJI.
This isn't the first time DJI drones have come under the scanner in recent years. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security claimed that DJI was "selectively targeting government and privately owned entities within these sectors to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive US data." Given those concerns, it seems a bit strange that the entire fleet would now be grounded solely due to the fact that the drones are DJI-manufactured.
Users can disable internet connections
DJI, a market leader in the drone-manufacturing industry, however, claims that users are free to disable the product's internet connections and that the Chinese government has never sought access to DJI's data.
"We have worked with the Department of [the] Interior to create a safe and secure drone solution that meets their rigorous requirements, which was developed over the course of 15 months with DOI officials, independent cybersecurity professionals, and experts at NASA," the company said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
US ban on Chinese tech
While national security is of utmost importance, it seems like only a detailed investigation would fully confirm or dismiss any risks of Chinese surveillance. It would be a daunting task to check every drone, computer, smartphone, tablet and drive used by the government since nearly every piece of tech in the market uses Chinese parts in some form or the other. In the meantime, the FCC has proposed a measure that it claims will protect the public from Chinese spying by banning some telecom companies from using Huawei and ZTE devices.