Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday announced an inquiry into the use of Chinese-made drones by U.S. state and local police forces.
U.S. intelligence agencies have warned that drones made by Da Jiang Innovations, a Chinese company that manufactures about 80 percent of drones in the U.S., could be used by the Chinese government to spy on American infrastructure. But local law-enforcement agencies have nevertheless been using DJI drones to enforce social-distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
“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 representatives wrote in letters to the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security. “On April 1, 2020, DJI announced that it had donated 100 drones to ‘45 police, fire and public safety organizations in 22 states’ under the potential guise of helping with the problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”
The letter to the Justice Department requests a list of all local police forces currently using DJI drones, and both letters ask whether the DOJ and DHS are monitoring the use of such drones.
As early as 2017, the Department of Homeland Security warned that DJI was “selectively targeting government and privately owned entities within these sectors to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data.”
DJI spokesperson Adam Lisberg disputed those claims.
“With more front-line workers testing positive for COVID-19, our focus is giving our public safety professionals every tool possible to fight the virus and protect citizens. That is our goal,” Lisberg told National Review. “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.”
Police tasked with enforcing social-distancing measures have used DJI drones to look into areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. Chris Bollwage, the mayor of Elizabeth, N.J., defended his city’s use of drones in an interview with MSNBC in mid April.
“If these drones save one life, it is clearly worth the activity and the information that the drones are sending,” Bollwage said at the time.