US President Trump orders security assessment for Chinese-made drones

Drones sourced from “foreign adversaries” could be removed from federal activities.

US President Trump has signed an executive order demanding a security assessment of drones sourced from China and countries considered to be "foreign adversaries."

As reported by Reuters, just before he steps down to be replaced by President-elect Joe Biden, Trump has ordered US agencies to perform a security assessment of drones involved in federal activities. 

Drones can be used by government agencies for a variety of purposes including mapping, disaster assistance, surveillance, infrastructure inspections, and for military functions.

The new executive order, signed on Monday, will require agencies to perform security risk assessments on drones made in any country considered a "foreign adversary," which could include China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. 

As noted by the news agency, the executive order also requires risk assessments to include any "potential steps" to mitigate risk; such as, "if warranted," removing them entirely from federal service. 

Last year, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) grounded its entire drone fleet -- except for use in emergency situations, such as rescue missions -- while a national security risk assessment took place. 

In a similar fashion to Trump's decree, US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed an order (.PDF) to encourage the use of locally-produced drones instead of any that are foreign-made. The reason cited in the order is that data collected and produced by the drones could be of value to "foreign entities, organizations, and governments."

It is estimated that roughly 800 drones belonging to the DOI are either sourced from China or contain Chinese components. 

At the time, DJI, headquartered in Shenzhen, China, said the decision was "disappointing" as the order "treats a technology's country of origin as a litmus test for its performance, security, and reliability."

Last month, DJI was added to the US Commerce Department's "Entity List" which bans trading with companies on the grounds of national security.

US agencies have displayed concerns over the use of drones since 2015. As drones began to carve a place into the consumer hobbyist sector, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that adversaries could also adopt the technology to launch attacks. 

In 2019, with drones having been adopted for widespread governmental use, DHS alerts then pivoted to worries that drones were stealing sensitive data. The agency warned that drones "contain components that can compromise your data and share your information on a server accessed beyond the company itself."

However, not every form of drone is created equally. In the same year, Trump revoked an executive order signed by Barack Obama in 2016 which required US intelligence chiefs to publish data on civilians killed by drone strikes outside of war zones. 

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