A bipartisan group of US senators have launched a bill that would stop the federal government buying drones from China, a move that could cause major problems for large parts of the US government.
If passed, the legislation would stop the purchase of drones that are made or assembled in China, while phasing out the use of ones that have already been purchased. The move could have significant implications for parts of the federal government, such as the Department of Interior, which uses hundreds of Chinese-made drones for mapping and land management.
Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida who is one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said in a statement: “For far too long, we have turned a blind eye to China and allowed their technology into some of the most critical operations of the US government. This has to stop.”
The bill’s co-sponsors include Republicans Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida, Tom Cotton from Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, as well as Democrats Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
It is the latest attempt by politicians in Washington to limit the access of Chinese technology companies to the US market on national security grounds.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration banned US companies from selling their products to the Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei, and has been urging foreign allies not to let the company help build their 5G networks.
Other Chinese companies are also bracing for possible sanctions, including Hikvision, which makes surveillance equipment. Officials are also reportedly looking at taking action against Dahua, Megvii, iFlytek and Meiya Pico.
But a ban on drones would be more problematic for some agencies, as well as for emergency services, which would be banned from using federal money to buy Chinese drones under the proposed legislation.
Mark Bathrick, the director of the Office of Aviation Services at the interior department, told the Financial Times that such a move could kill off its drone programme.
“We have 674 drones, and they are all either made in China or contain Chinese components. This would result in our entire fleet being banned.”
Officials say others in the administration are more sympathetic to the senators’ cause, however, with national security chiefs warning that the data from drones could be secretly sent back to Beijing.
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security said it had “strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access”.