GOP Lawmakers Request Information About Chinese-Owned Drones Used To Enforce Lockdowns

A group of Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, FL, sent a letter Wednesday, obtained by, to the Director of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Christopher Krebs and to the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine Sullivan asking them to provide information about state and local law enforcement’s use of Chinese-government owned drones to enforce coronavirus-related lockdowns.

“We respectfully write to request information about state and local law enforcement use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) produced by Da Jiang Innovations (DJI), a Chinese company that accounts for nearly 80 percent of drone sales in the United States,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.In response to the coronavirus epidemic, DJI has donated drones to state and local law enforcement entities to purportedly assist with social distancing enforcement. Although federal law enforcement agencies have warned of potential information security concerns with DJI drones, it is not clear whether state and local law enforcement agencies are fully aware of these issues.”

The letter notes a Homeland Security Investigations alert issued in 2017 warning that DJI’s drones were “[l]ikely providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to [the] Chinese government.” Further, the  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department “assesse[d] with high confidence [DJI] is selectively targeting government and privately owned entities within [infrastructure and law enforcement sectors] to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data.”

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a similar alert in May 2019, the letter stated, saying the drones posed a “potential risk of an organization’s information.” 

Many federal government agencies banned the drones over the security concerns, including the U.S. Army in 2017, and, more recently, the Interior Department “temporarily retired” the drones. Additionally, the National Defense Authorization Act banned the U.S. military use and the purchase of China’s drones.

The alarms sounded by the federal government, however, appear to be dismissed amid the coronavirus pandemic and Gaetz has been vocal on the issue. The letter pointed to DJI’s donation of 100 drones for “45 police, fire and public safety organizations in 22 states.”

The group requests the following information from the top officials:

“1. What, if anything, is the Department’s role in providing technical assistance and guidance to states and localities that have purchased or received DJI products;

2. Has the Department issued any new alerts since CISA’s May 20, 2019, warning that
Chinese-made drones present a “potential risk of an organization’s information?” If so, please provide the Committee with information and documents regarding any such alert; and

3. Please explain whether the Department is monitoring DJI’s recent provision of drones to state and local law-enforcement agencies during the coronavirus pandemic and what actions, if any, the Department is taking in response.”

The Republican lawmakers are asking that their questions be answered “no later than 5:00 p.m. on May 27, 2020. “