US DOI grounds 800 drones and launches probe over espionage risk

Brittany A. Roston - Oct 31, 2019, 6:59 pm CDT
US DOI grounds 800 drones and launches probe over espionage risk

The US Department of Interior, the agency that oversees federal land and natural resources, has grounded its fleet of more than 800 drones over concerns that they may be a security vulnerability. According to recent reports, officials have cited worries over drones made in China, as well as drones that feature components manufactured in the nation. The decision is the latest in a long line of security worries over Chinese gadgets.

News about the DOI’s decision comes from the Wall Street Journal, which reports that Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt gave the order to ground the fleet and initiate an investigation into potential security vulnerabilities introduced by the drones. The fleet may return to the skies when the investigation is over, depending on what it finds.

At the heart of the matter, according to the report, are concerns over hardware manufactured in China and its potential for facilitating espionage. The Department of the Interior manages a large number of federal territories and natural resources, including critical infrastructure like dams.

Drones are an excellent technology for surveying and monitoring these large open regions, but there’s a downside — the images and video they capture could potentially be used by foreign governments to gather information on federal lands. The report claims government officials are concerned China may be able to use drones made in its country for this purpose.

This isn’t the first time concerns over Chinese hardware — including drones — have been raised. Earlier this year, a memo from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency revealed US concerns over the security risk posed by these drones. In addition, politicians are currently debating a bill that, if signed into law, would ban government agencies from using drones out of China.

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