The US government plans to terminate one of its largest civilian drone programs over concerns that devices at least partially made in China may be used for spying, the Financial Times reports, citing two people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: Chinese-made civilian drones have become a focal point for the US government, as officials warn that Beijing could use photos taken with onboard cameras for intelligence purposes.

  • The move to ground the fleet received opposition from various agencies over concerns that the grounding could cost the government time and money.
  • The US army outlawed the use of DJI drones in 2017. Congress is also considering banning the federal government from buying Chinese-made drones.

Details: The US Department of Interior will ground its nearly 1,000 drones after determining that they pose an unacceptable level of risk as Beijing could be using the devices for spying.

  • Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has not approved a final policy. The devices may be used in special situations, including emergencies, and for training purposes, FT sources said.
  • The interior department has already temporarily grounded drones with cameras, which the agency used to tackle wildfires and to map terrain, while their risks were reviewed.
  • Numerous government agencies have objected to the ban, according to documents seen by the FT. The Fish and Wildlife Service detailed in a note that the temporary ban has affected their operations. The agency had to cancel flights to count animals and monitor controlled burns, which are used to reduce wildfires.

US Interior Department to ground Chinese-made drones: report

Context: Against the backdrop of the US-China trade war, Washington has sought to limit US exposure to Chinese technology.

  • Chinese companies are under increased scrutiny over national security concerns. Telecommunication firm Huawei was put on a US blacklist in May, effectively banning it from doing business with American companies.

Chris Udemans

Christopher Udemans is a Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covers Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, and cybersecurity. You can contact him at chrisudemans [at] technode [dot] com.

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