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Feds warn China is collecting data from drones used in the US

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More than a thousand police departments and first responders across the United States use drones for public safety, but a new memo from federal officials warns that those drones may do more harm than good, posing a threat to national security depending on who manufactures them. A Wednesday, Jan. 17 memo from the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warns that China is collecting data from drones made by Chinese-based manufacturers, which includes most drones on the market. 

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The memo calls on all private and public agencies that use drones to collect information to be wary of where they come from. According to Drone Industry Insights, the global drone market has soared, surpassing $30 billion in 2022. According to the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International, most drones are Chinese-made.

  • 90% of drones in the hobby market are manufactured by Chinese companies
  • 70% of drones in the industrial market are manufactured by Chinese companies
  • 80% of drones in the first responder market are manufactured by Chinese companies


DJI, a China-based company, flew into the scene in 2013 and now controls 70% of the global drone market, with its drones featured in electronic stores nationwide and thousands of online vlogs.

In 2022, the Department of Defense said DJI is a golden ticket for Chinese surveillance, calling it a Chinese military company. But in an interview with CNBC International, the drone maker denied that any data had been given to China.

“We’ve also cooperated with the U.S. Department of Interior with their audit, with Idaho National Lab doing an audit for Department of Homeland Security, and in no case that they found that data is going anywhere it shouldn’t,” said Adam Welsh, DJI head of global policy.

Wednesday’s memo, however, warns that companies like DJI may not have a choice but to give data to the Chinese government, citing a 2015 law expanding oversight of domestic and foreign companies operating within China. Since then, China’s power over these companies has only grown.

“The 2021 data security law expands the PRC’s access to and control of companies and data within China and imposes strict penalties on China-based businesses for non-compliance,” the FBI, CISA memo read.

Federal officials said data collected by the People’s Republic of China would be essential to its military strategies and could allow it to exploit any vulnerabilities within the U.S. An expert formerly working within the Department of Homeland Security told CNN that while “this is not the boogeyman,” the feds are rightly pointing out the risk.

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ROBERTSON: THE GLOBAL DRONE MARKET IS SOARING. CURRENT ESTIMATES SAY ITS WORTH SURPASSED 30-BILLION DOLLARS IN 2022, ACCORDING TO DRONE INDUSTRY INSIGHTS.

AND THERE IS NO SIGN OF IT SLOWING DOWN. 

MORE THAN A THOUSAND POLICE DEPARTMENTS, AND FIRST RESPONDERS ACROSS THE UNITED STATES USE DRONES IN THE NAME OF PUBLIC SAFETY. 

BUT A NEW MEMO FROM THE FEDS IS RAISING QUESTIONS ABOUT WHETHER SOME OF THOSE DRONES DO MORE HARMTHAN THAN GOOD.

THAT’S BECAUSE DEPENDING ON THE MANUFACTURER, THEY COULD POSE A THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY.

THE WARNING FROM THE F-B-I AND THE CYBERSECURITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE SECURITY AGENCY WAS RELEASED THIS WEEK.
IT SAYS CHINA IS COLLECTING DATA FROM DRONES MADE BY CHINESE-BASED MANUFACTURERS, WHICH INCLUDES MOST DRONES ON THE MARKET.
THE MEMO CALLS ON ALL AGENCIES, PRIVATE AND PUBLIC TO BE WARY OF WHERE THEY COME FROM.

ACCORDING TO ASSOCIATION FOR UNCREWED VEHICLE SYSTEMS INTERNATIONAL – CHINESE MADE DRONES MAKE UP MORE THAN 90-PERCENT OF THE AMERICAN HOBBY DRONE MARKET, 70-PERCENT OF THE INDUSTRIAL DRONE MARKET, AND 80-PERCENT OF THE FIRST RESPONDER DRONE MARKET.

AND THE COMPANY CURRENTLY DOMINATING THE WORLD’S DRONE MARKET IS ONE YOU’VE LIKELY HEARD OF, D-J-I – A CHINESE-BASED COMPANY THAT GOT ITS START MORE THAN A DECADE AGO. 

NOW, D-J-I CONTROLS 70-PERCENT OF THE GLOBAL DRONE MARKET, WITH ITS DRONES FEATURED IN ELECTRONIC STORES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, AND THOUSANDS OF VLOGS ON THE INTERNET.

IN 20-22, THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE SAID D-J-I IS A GOLDEN TICKET FOR CHINESE SURVEILLANCE, CALLING IT A CHINESE MILITARY COMPANY.

IN AN INTERVIEW WITH C-N-B-C THE DRONE MAKER DENIED THAT ANY DATA HAD BEEN GIVEN TO CHINA.

ADAM WELSH – DJI: “We’ve also cooperated with the US Department of Interior with their audit, with Idaho National Lab doing an audit for Department of Homeland Security and in no case that they found that data is going anywhere it shouldn’t.”

ROBERTSON: WEDNESDAY’S MEMO HOWEVER, WARNS THAT COMPANIES LIKE D-J-I MAY NOT HAVE A CHOICE ABOUT WHAT THEY DO WITH THE DATA. CITING A 20-15 LAW THAT EXPANDED OVERSIGHT OF DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN COMPANIES OPERATING WITHIN CHINA.

AND SINCE THEN CHINA’S POWER OVER THESE COMPANIES HAS ONLY GROWN.

“The 2021 Data Security Law expands the PRC’s access to and control of companies and data within China and imposes strict penalties on China-based businesses for non-compliance.”

THE FEDS SAY DATA COLLECTED BY THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA WOULD BE ESSENTIAL TO ITS MILITARY STRATEGIES, AND COULD GIVE IT THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPLOIT ANY VULNERABILITIES WITHIN THE U-S.

AN EXPERT FORMERLY WORKING WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY TELLING C-N-N THAT WHILE “THIS IS NOT THE BOGEYMAN” – THE FEDS ARE RIGHTLY POINTING OUT THE RISK.