No evidence of unauthorized data transfers by top Chinese drone manufacturer: study

Greg Nash

Drones manufactured by Da Jiang Innovation that were previously used by the U.S. government have not transferred data to the Chinese company or China’s government, according to a report published Tuesday by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

The study is the latest to call into question allegations from several lawmakers who have pushed for federal agencies to stop using Chinese-made drones over worries that they share data with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“That’s the allegation that we’ve seen the past two years or more repeated by policymakers and in some cases our competitors as a reason to enact policy that would take away the ability to choose which products to use in a mission,” Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president of policy, told The Hill in an interview.

“None of those have been accompanied by evidence or analysis demonstrating that there’s a factual basis behind the allegation.”

Booz Allen Hamilton, which has no business ties to DJI, said it found no evidence of unauthorized data transmissions in its analysis of three drone models used at one point by the U.S. government.

The company said it does not know if any of its drones, which can be purchased in retail stores, are in use by the government.

DJI, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of drones, has long held that no data is transferred from its drones to either the CCP or the company itself. Users have the option of storing the images and videos collected by the drones on DJI-run servers.

The U.S. Army discontinued the use of DJI drones in 2017. The Interior Department in October grounded all of its drones that were manufactured in China or contained Chinese-made parts, citing national security concerns.

Earlier this year, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt went a step further and temporarily grounded all of the agency’s drones, which are used for tracking natural disasters and wildlife.

A bipartisan group of senators in September introduced legislation that would bar all federal agencies from operating drones manufactured or assembled in China. The bill was passed out of the House Homeland Security committee in March.

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who is facing a tough election battle in November, put forward a bill last month that would prohibit any federal funding from being used to purchase drones manufactured in China. That bill has yet to leave committee.

The legislation and actions by agencies stem from concerns about a 2017 Chinese law that requires companies to hand over data requested for state intelligence work.

Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE and social media app TikTok are among those that have come under increased scrutiny and efforts by lawmakers to limit their use by the federal government.

The backlash comes as part of a larger push to eliminate the use of any Chinese-made equipment by the government, though allegations of information-sharing have been unsubstantiated.

Some critics of the Chinese tech companies have said that even if data is not yet covertly being siphoned into the hands of the CCP, it could happen further down the line.

Updated at 6:50pm ET

Tags cybersecurity DJI drones Huawei Martha McSally National security tiktok
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