'Spying on Americans': Washington Waking up as Chinese Drones Buzz into Restricted Airspace in DC
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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The threats from China, the country some consider to be America's biggest adversary, are piling up. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill will likely revisit another potential threat in the coming months: Chinese drones buzzing around restricted airspace here in our nation's capital.
The recreational use of drones has grown into a billion dollar market stateside. This soaring popularity has also put the flying machines on Capitol Hill's radar, especially given tensions with China. The world's largest recreational drone maker is Chinese owned company DJI, and alarm bells ring as drones keep popping up around Washington, D.C.
The District has the strictest drone laws in the country with a minimum 15 mile radius no fly zone for drones around the Capitol. Most drones come equipped with internal GPS that automatically limits the ability to fly in restricted areas, but that hasn't stopped increasing flybys.
Politico reported details of classified briefings presented to senators about hundreds of drones detected around the Capitol. Homeland Security warned last summer about the potential for foreign adversaries to hack drones for spying or cyber attacks.
Homeland Security committee member Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) attended that hearing. "Let's wake up! Since I've been up here, I've been saying our federal government needs to stop buying Chinese-made drones. They can be used for surveillance, which they are as far as we know, our government shouldn't be buying them, our military shouldn't be buying them," Scott told CBN.
Scott has introduced multiple bills to curb the use of foreign-made and specifically China-made drones in government.
The encounters in restricted airspace mean someone hacked or manipulated the drones to bypass the geofencing. Whether malicious or not, it poses a problem.
"One way to look at it is, what can you do? You can make sure you don't buy Chinese products. You can make sure you don't have TikTok, buy a Chinese drone," Scott told CBN.
Regarding the restricted airspace encounters, DJI told Politico, "Unfortunately, while DJI puts everything in place to identify and notify our customers about areas in which they can't fly, we can't control the end users' behavior."
Fear over spying and data collection by China has only heightened in recent weeks. A new House select committee on China will now focus on threats and competition from the Asian superpower. More lawmakers want an overall TikTok ban or to force the popular app to be sold to an American company due potential spy threats.
The flyby and eventual takedown of a massive Chinese spy balloon after it sailed over America has only turned up the heat.
"Whether we're talking drone technology, wireless technology, whether we're talking apps that big tech is rolling out in coordination with CCP, we do need to be a lot more thoughtful, planful, and deliberate in how we deal with this threat. We know that China is a technological leader in balloons and it's not just 'weather balloons' that are spying on Americans. I suspect drones are doing a lot of the activity as well," said South Dakota Republican and China select committee member Rep. Dusty Johnson.
The good news in this divided Congress is that a crackdown on the spying threat appears to have bipartisan support.
California Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna also sits on the select committee. "We need to first of all have our capability on drones, on AI, on satellite imagine, on quantum, really enhanced. One of the challenges is that a lot of this is commercial technology, is not just DOD technology, so we need to adopt the commercial technology better, but we have to be careful about the commercial technology that China has," Khanna told CBN.
At least part of the investments backing DJI come from the Chinese government. The links have led to multiple government agencies including the Pentagon and Department of Defense to ban buying the drones for their agencies except in limited circumstances.
Another potential problem is that the drones are used by local law enforcement across the country as the machines are increasingly needed to help first responders.
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