The Interior Department will issue a new rule grounding its China-made drones tomorrow, according to a new report. The restriction would only allow drones made in China or that feature Chinese components to be operated in emergency situations including natural disasters. This move follows the Interior Department’s grounding of its drone fleet in late 2019 over security concerns.
The Interior Department has a fleet of around 800 drones that were either made in China or that feature components made in China, according to the agency. Late last year, the Interior Department temporarily grounded this fleet over concerns that the hardware could be used by the Chinese government for espionage. According to The Wall Street Journal, it will take things a step farther on Wednesday.
The Interior Department is expected to announce a new rule that will permanently ground this fleet of drones and others like it, only allowing them to be used in extreme situations where the usefulness will outweigh the potential risks. The information reportedly came directly from the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
Examples of emergencies that would warrant exemptions include things like wildfires that need to be tracked from the sky, search and rescue operations, and other instances in which people and property are put at risk. As you’d expect, the Interior Department is an agency tasked with managing the nation’s public lands, including national parks, as well as upholding the government’s responsibilities in regards to tribal lands.
According to WSJ, the Interior Department is advising its officials to source drones from domestic options in an effort to mitigate potential espionage issues. Drones remain a vital tool used by the department to inspect structures like dams, to monitor the US’s endangered species, and to keep tabs on things like soil erosion.