Dept. of Interior grounds its drones amid cybersecurity concerns

The U.S. Department of the Interior has confirmed it has grounded its fleet of non-emergency drones amid concerns over cybersecurity.

In a brief statement, the department said the move will help to ensure that “the technology used for these operations is such that it will not compromise our national security interests.”

Interior spokesperson Carol Danko said the department affirms with a formal order the “temporary cessation of non-emergency drones while we ensure that cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed,” months after the department said it was grounding its approximately 800 drones.

But the drones will still be used for emergency purposes, such as search and rescue and assisting with natural disasters, the statement said.

Cyberscoop was first to report the news.

The order did not specifically mention threats from China, but said that information collected during drone missions “has the potential to be valuable to foreign entities, organizations, and governments.”

Danko told TechCrunch that the department currently has 121 drones made by DJI and 665 drones that Chinese-built but not made by DJI. She added that 24 drones are made in the U.S. but have Chinese components.

“The review is to help us identify and assess any potential threats or risks,” said Danko.

Several other government departments — including the military — have also banned or grounded their fleet of Chinese-built drones.

Chinese companies have faced bans and sanctions from operating in the federal government over their alleged connections to the Chinese government. Chief among the fears are that Chinese tech companies could be compelled by Beijing to spy or be used to conduct espionage against the West. Last year, the Trump administration banned federal agencies from buying networking equipment from Huawei and ZTE. Several other companies, including radio equipment maker Hytera and surveillance tech giant Hikvision, were also banned from government.

DJI said last year it would look to assemble its drones in California in an effort to dispel concerns.

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