The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a statement warning that Chinese-manufactured drones pose a security threat to the country. The department argues that the data collected by such drones could end up in servers back in China, where the government has the power to acquire and use it in any way it wants.
Drone security issue
Though the DHS does not explicitly mention any Chinese company, it is very clear that the target of the ban is primarily DJI. Based in Shenzhen, DJI accounts for almost 80 percent of the drones operating in North America. The company’s popularity comes from the fact that the drones it sells range from cheap ones that cost a few hundred bucks up to top-of-the-line models that can cost thousands of dollars, essentially covering the entire market.
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The government’s problem with DJI is nothing new. Back in 2017, the U.S. Army terminated its use of DJI drone aircraft after it realized that the company was sharing information with the Chinese government. As a safety measure, DHS has warned existing DJI consumers to switch off the devices’ Internet access and remove storage cards whenever they are not in operation. Meanwhile, DJI has tried to minimize the damage to its brand by issuing a public statement.
“We give customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted… For government and critical infrastructure customers that require additional assurances, we provide drones that do not transfer data to DJI or via the Internet, and our customers can enable all the precautions DHS [Department of Homeland Security] recommends,” the company said in a statement (BBC).
In addition to drones, video surveillance companies are also being targeted by the Trump administration. Of particular interest is Hikvision, a company rumored to be involved in the surveillance and persecution of Xinjiang’s Uyghur community in China. The U.S. Commerce Department is apparently considering banning American companies from providing components to Hikvision.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently stated that China plans on putting their surveillance equipment in networks all across the world to monitor and steal important information. He said that the Trump administration is prepared to fight this challenge and prevent America from coming under the covert surveillance of Beijing. Members of Congress have asked the government to impose sanctions on companies that participate in the persecution of religious minorities in China, like Hikvision.
“The combination of more traditional surveillance equipment with new technologies, like artificial intelligence, speech monitoring, and genetic testing, is helping make monitoring networks increasingly effective — and intrusive… The potential crackdown stems from the Trump administration’s belief that China poses an economic, technological, and geopolitical threat that cannot be left unchecked,” according to The New York Times.
China’s attack drones
Beijing is reportedly developing an army of attack drones capable of swarming enemies like bees. The drones will be managed by an Artificial Intelligence that will monitor the swarm and determine a course of action. At present, the technology allows at least 10 drones to assemble into a swarm.
“China’s domestically developed helicopter drones carrying proximity explosive mortar shells, grenade launchers, and machine guns can now form swarms and engage in coordinated strikes… With a single push of a button, the drones can autonomously take off, avoiding colliding in the air and finding their way to their designated target… Once they receive an order to attack, they will engage the target autonomously in a coordinated manner. Upon finishing a mission, the system will lead the drones back to base and land automatically,” according to China Military.
Being developed by the Zhuhai Ziyan company based in Guangdong, the drones are said to be capable of traveling 78 miles per hour. They can be armed with a 40-millimeter grenade launcher or 60-millimeter mortar shells.