The U.S. Government Keeps Buying Chinese Drones

This piece was originally published in the Wall Street Journal.

In one of the latest moves in the U.S.-China great-power competition, the Defense Department revealed in October that DJI, a Chinese drone company, is on its “Chinese military companies” list, which tracks companies working with the People’s Liberation Army. This reflects a growing, and justified, concern with the company—the largest commercial drone manufacturer in the world—and its close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

As Brendan Carr, a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, has warned, “DJI drones and the surveillance technology on board these systems are collecting vast amounts of sensitive data—everything from high-resolution images of critical infrastructure to facial recognition technology and remote sensors that can measure an individual’s body temperature and heart rate.” The surveillance potential of DJI drones isn’t hypothetical; the Treasury Department has alleged that the Chinese Communist Party is using them to monitor Uyghurs trapped in Chinese concentration camps. If China can use these drones to spy on its own people, it can also use them to spy on Americans.

Compounding DJI drones’ risk is their capacity for “geofencing.” Using GPS and satellite data, DJI can decide whether one of its drones will function in a given area, allowing the company to down an entire fleet if it chooses. The ability to deactivate government-owned drones shouldn’t be entrusted to any foreign entity—least of all one under the thumb of the Communist Party.

Click here to read the full piece in the Wall Street Journal.

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