Chinese-Made Drone Use by Police Spurs Lawmaker Questions

Police Data on Use of Chinese-Made Drones Demanded by Lawmakers

(Bloomberg) -- Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are demanding information from Homeland Security officials on how a Chinese company’s drones are being used by public safety agencies during the virus outbreak.

SZ DJI Technology Co., the world’s largest civilian drone maker, announced last month it was giving 100 drones to more than 40 local governments in 22 states to help monitor public health issues associated with the novel coronavirus outbreak. Several federal agencies have expressed concerns that the devices could be used for spying in the U.S., though the company denies that.

“Although federal law enforcement agencies have warned of potential information security concerns with DJI drones, it is not clear whether state and local law enforcement agencies are fully aware of these issues,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

The letter was signed by Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and 13 other lawmakers.

Several federal agencies have expressed concern about the Chinese-made drones. In January, the Interior Department announced it was banning non-emergency flights of its fleet of DJI drones used to monitor public lands, though its order didn’t cite the company specifically.

DJI has taken multiple steps in an attempt to prove that its drones can be operated safely, including creating a mode in which they can’t transmit data except to the pilot commanding them from the ground.

The purpose of the donations of drones to local agencies was to protect first responders and citizens, the company said in a statement.

“False claims that our drones spy on people or send data to China actually risk interfering with public safety efforts to protect people and communities,” the company said.

In an April 21 letter to the public safety agencies that accepted the free drones, DJI said that its products had been tested by cybersecurity consultants, federal agencies and the Idaho National Laboratory and they met security standards for critical infrastructure.

The letter called concerns raised about the drones “clearly motivated by political sentiment.”

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