Federal money is used to purchase drones and the drone-detection equipment of DJI which is a Chinese drone manufacturer who has the data that is created and collected through the products they sell. Some of the details about the drone purchases were hidden on government websites, whereas certain aspects related to these programmes were discovered when I filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to emergency management authorities across the nation. These programs demonstrate a continued skepticism between federal and state officials to have China-made technology, which is all but surveillance of American citizens as well as public security officials.
The cold war between America and China is heating up. Recent export controls as well as calls to stop applications on social media such as TikTok and the growing concern regarding Chinese companies purchasing American farms, are indications that lawmakers are making it a top priority to fight Chinese influence in crucial areas in the U.S. economy. Given the increasing tensions in the region between Washington and Beijing as well as the increased use of Chinese drones employed by American law enforcement agencies could pose immediate security risks for American citizens. In the simplest terms this is a major risk to the security of American citizens.
The company’s name is in the DJI isn’t as well-known as other Chinese firms that are associated with the Chinese Communist Party, such as the telecom giant Huawei However, it’s deserved to be. It is for one reason that DJI is included on the “Chinese military companies” list that is maintained through the Department of Defense as a result of its cooperation with China’s military, called the People’s Liberation Army. Additionally, there isn’t any such thing as a completely private enterprise in China. As per China’s law of 2017 titled National Intelligence Law, “any entity or person must help, support, and cooperate with the state intelligence activities in accordance with laws,” mandating Chinese companies to cooperate with China’s authorities. While drones can be used for many commercial applications, ranging from shooting wedding pictures, they are nonetheless primarily military tools that were developed and pioneered to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance in the field.
This is more alarming that DJI has control and access over the location information of each drone it sells. This gives DJI the authority to limit the areas drones can fly indefinitely–a ability that was demonstrated in the war between Russia and Ukraine during which DJI refused requests from Ukrainian authorities Ukrainian government to establish geofences to stop drones from flying within Ukraine.
DJI’s drone detection software, AeroScope, which “rapidly detects communication links between drones and gathers information about the status of flight, routes and other details in real-time” has security issues. Although DJI initially claimed that AeroScope’s signals were secure however, in the last year the company was forced admit that they weren’t really secure and that anyone with some tech know-how could get precise information about where and when DJI’s drones were flying. This capability, as well was a factor in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine one group in of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has even suggested that DJI uses these technologies to give Russia with an advantage over Ukraine in military operations.
In the end, DJI is not a business that with whom the United States should do business with, and this raises the question of why police departments across the nation have bought equipment from DJI with FEMA funds. Police departments across California have bought more than 100,000 worth of drones from DJI with these grants. In Florida police departments, they applied for funding of $270,000 for the purchase of DJI’s AeroScope drone detection software.
The transactions are generally hidden secret from the public eye however there was an investment made in 2019 by the Massachusetts government. Massachusetts the state of Massachusetts, which declaredthat it had spent 230,000 dollars for AeroScope equipment using Homeland Security grant money. They received eight AeroScope antennas to monitor drones that fly across Massachusetts.
To find out about DJI purchases in the other States, it is you must submit FOIA request for records from every local government agency in the United States. Studies of the purchases of drones by police departments show that a large majority of them of them were DJI drones. Assuming that the majority of police departments who purchased drones since 2017 bought drones from DJI which is the case, we can calculate the number of millions of dollar U.S. taxpayers have put towards the development of the Chinese security platform that is government-aligned to America: Washington, D.C. and the surrounding counties paid $420,000 for drones in the years 2010-21. In Texas approximately $142,000 was used for drones. In Washington state police departments, they spent around $222,000 for drones. When you include California and Florida together, the total amount comes at around $1.4 million. This is a modest amount for the state government however, even one million dollars isn’t the amount we should give to a CCP affiliated company.
This is the only amount we have gathered about. A few states are yet to answer my FOIA requests. In addition some states have told me that they don’t have specific information on the way their states have spent on grants over the last 10 years. For instance, some states did not have data about the amount they spent each year. Even worse are states like Texas, where the Texas Homeland Security Act permits the state to conceal expenditures due to unclear security concerns.
Purchase of DJI drones using the help of FEMA grant funds is alarming, but not a surprise. The past history of grant-related programs like these is littered with dubious purchases as well as an inordinate lack of disclosure. These drones were bought by the FEMA’s Homeland Security Grant Program that includes two programs established following the attacks that focus on funding preparedness for terrorism. While the motivation is admirable but these programs post-9/11 are known for not spending enough in a variety of ways, from the unnecessary (police departments that use grants to purchase snow-cone equipment) to the more harmful instances, such as when police agencies acquired militarized gear, like police vehicles that were armored–often creating fear and alarm in the public, despite the fact that the police forces were in zones of decreasing criminal activity.
The year 2021 was the first time FEMA published guidelines for the use of agency funds to purchase DJI drones which stated the absence of a restriction regarding the use of FEMA funds to purchase Chinese drones, while acknowledging the privacy issues with data storage and advising purchasers to find secure ways to keep their data. The more prudent option, however, is to prohibit the use of funds to purchase DJI drones in the first place. In fact, it’s the norm in other areas of government. For a long time police departments used the program called a grant program in the Department of Justice to buy Chinese drones up until the DOJ was forced to end this practice by the year 2020. The ban was implemented because of fears that Chinese drones might be vulnerable to attack from an external actor.
Other areas of the federal government also have enforced prohibitions. In 2021 it was the General Services Administration (an independent agency of the U.S. government specializing in procurement) prohibited the agency from purchasing drones through Chinese companies. The GSA mandates contracts for drones to be vetted as safe by an in-house drone security program which is managed by a department within the Department of Defense.
Beyond the obvious risks and absurdity inherent in American government agencies outsourcing crucial surveillance and defense tasks to China There is something predictable about the process. The critics have stated it is true that FEMA grants are utilized for purchases that may be questionable.
The main problem is that America even with all the expenditure on military technology hasn’t produced an excellent product. Although buying Chinese equipment is a concern, DJI drones have more features and are more affordable than their competitors. They even have a lower price. Department of Interior even acknowledged that there aren’t any alternative to DJI.
This brings up the issue about the best American police departments as well as other public safety agencies need to take over the DJI drones. An approach to promote commercial drone production that are made in the United States would be optimal but this could be a problem that needs to be made worse before they improve as organizations begin to wean themselves off using Chinese drones. If lawmakers are looking to be serious about safeguarding U.S. industries from Chinese surveillance, bans on DJI drones could be a great starting point.