The U.S. Government Is Funding Chinese Spy Technology in America’s Backyard

This piece was originally published in Tablet.

Federal funds are being used to buy drones and drone detection equipment from DJI, a Chinese drone company that maintains control over data created and compiled by their products. Some of the details of these drone acquisitions were buried on government websites, while other aspects of these programs only came to light after I submitted a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to emergency management departments across the country. These programs indicate an ongoing tolerance among state and federal officials for having Chinese-made technology all but spying on American citizens and public safety officials.

America’s cold war with China has been heating up. New export controls, calls to ban social media applications like TikTok, and rising concerns over Chinese companies buying American farmland, are signs that some lawmakers are now making it a priority to counter Chinese influence in critical sectors of the U.S. economy. Given the intensifying strategic rivalry between Washinton and Beijing, the use of Chinese drone fleets by American law enforcement arguably poses an immediate security risk to American citizens. At the very least, it represents a significant vulnerability.

DJI is not as well known as other Chinese companies with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, such as the telecom giant Huawei, but it deserves to be. For one thing, DJI is on the “Chinese military companies” list maintained by the Department of Defense as a result of the company’s work with China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a fully private company in China. Following the country’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work according to law,” mandating Chinese companies to work with the country’s authorities. While drones have many commercial applications, from herding animals to taking wedding photos, they are still essentially military weapons that were pioneered and developed to perform reconnaissance and surveillance on the battlefield.

Continue reading in Tablet.

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