US firms ‘warned’ against Chinese UAVs

The US Department of Homeland Security has reportedly warned US firms against using Chinese-made drones, saying they give Beijing “unfettered access” to company data. The move comes amid a wider crackdown on Chinese tech.

In a notice circulated to the US tech industry and seen by Reuters, the DHS warned that US officials have “strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access.”

No specific manufacturers are named in the report, but almost 80 percent of all drones used in the US and Canada are made by DJI, a firm located in Shenzen, China. DJI products have a diverse range of users, from filmmakers to police departments. The US Army, however,  banned the use of DJI drones in 2017, citing similar security concerns to the DHS’ latest report.

The report, also seen by several other US publications, alleges that Chinese drones can record and store sensitive data – flight paths for example – and transmit it back to Chinese intelligence agencies. Companies using the devices are advised to shut off their network connectivity to avoid “theft of information.”

The warning against Chinese drones comes amid a wider crackdown on Chinese technology. President Trump issued an executive order forbidding telecoms giant Huawei from buying parts or technology from US suppliers, a response to similar spying allegations.

Google, Intel and Qualcomm responded by immediately halting sales to Huawei, leaving the tech firm’s ability to keep up its smartphone manufacturing operation in question, and barring the Chinese firm from including some features of Google’s Android operating system in its phones.

While the White House and US intelligence agencies have repeatedly warned about the danger of using Chinese products, the recent clampdown also comes amid an ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing. With neither side blinking, the Trump administration’s targeting of Huawei could prove a useful bargaining chip when both sides meet again for trade talks.

President Trump is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of next month’s G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

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