NYPD uses Chinese drones despite US national security warning

New York City The Police Department, the country’s largest police department, continues to use surveillance drones made by a Chinese company that the US government has taken steps to ban, describing them as a “national security threat” that may provide “critical US infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”

The department’s drones are manufactured by Da Jiang Innovations, a Shenzhen-based company and Leading company of commercial drones around the world. When announced Drone programThe New York Police Department argued that the new technology “will undoubtedly help keep New York officers and staff safe.” She said the drones will be used for search and rescue missions, hostage situations, dangerous physical accidents, and access to inaccessible crime sites.

hundreds Law enforcement agencies across the country have embraced the use of drones in recent years, with many buying DJI drones due to their affordability. With the spread of technology, civil rights advocates have raised concerns about the potential for mass surveillance and breaches of privacy. They have objected to the use of drones in constitutionally protected events such as protests and have raised concerns about the use of drones in connection with other technology, such as facial recognition software. According to the New York Police Drone policyManagement drones do not use facial recognition technologies and cannot perform facial recognition analysis. However, the policy adds, “a still image can be generated from the recorded video images and can be used as a probe image for facial recognition analysis.”

Jerome Greco, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Digital Forensics unit, told The Intercept that NYPD’s continued use of the technology has repeatedly warned federal officials to raise questions about the declared use of drones.

“You have the NYPD on the one hand, who are using the pretext of national and city security to constantly expand surveillance technology, and yet you have the US military and the US agencies responsible for that security, saying they don’t trust this tool that the NYPD is using.” “It might seem unusual to me, given how deeply connected the NYPD was to federal law enforcement agencies, especially after 9/11, so that they wouldn’t receive some sort of warning.”

Sgt. Jessica McCurry, a spokeswoman for the NYPD, did not directly answer questions about security concerns related to DJI’s technology, but wrote in an email to The Intercept that the department does not use drones “to conduct activities that would be of national security value.”

“I would say there is no such thing as a good police drone, but some are still worse than others.”

Police critics have also raised questions about the NYPD’s ability to protect data. Albert Kahn — executive director of the Surveillance Technology Surveillance Project, or STOP, a group that advocates against mass surveillance — said the warnings about DJI are just one of many concerns about the NYPD’s handling of data the department collects directly or in association with the private sector. Comp. Kan said, pointing to last hack City Law Department.

He added that the possibility that some of this data could end up in the hands of foreign governments is troubling. “That could be a real danger to New Yorkers; and there are a lot of New Yorkers, including a lot of democracy activists, who have reasons to be particularly afraid of the Chinese government.” I would say there is no such thing as a good police drone. But some are still worse than others.”

A DJI Mavic drone, left, is used by the New York Police Department during a five-hour standoff inside an apartment building in Brooklyn on March 19, 2019.

Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

potential threats

DJI drones have become ubiquitous among private citizens and public agencies largely due to the company’s competitive pricing. While critics question whether police agencies have a legitimate need for it, there is little doubt that the technology has proven to be essential to other public agencies, such as those involved in the management of public lands, that use it, for example, to monitor wildfires.

Elsa Kania, a fellow in the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told The Intercept, referring to the Chinese government’s interference in the country’s tech sector. She noted that China’s National Intelligence Law includes a requirement that any Chinese company support state intelligence work, which could pave the way for the government to require a company like DJI to turn over data or interfere with vulnerabilities in its products in ways that can benefit the Chinese government. “It is difficult for DJI as a company to prove that it is safe and credible and cannot succumb to the demands of the Chinese government and the Communist Party when the Chinese Communist Party was insisting that tech companies should obey the party,” Kania said. .

Kania added that there are quite a few similar alternatives to commercial drones. “The fact that DJI drones are still used to this extent reflects a failure to identify and procure alternatives, or the fact that no other US or international companies can provide the same capability that DJI can, at an affordable price.”

The Chinese government has long relied on surveillance technology to suppress dissent and target minorities internally. But while the National Intelligence Act does raise the possibility that the government could compel companies like DJI to turn over data or otherwise support Chinese national interests, there is no evidence of that happening. However, US officials – and anti-China hawks in particular – have shaped policy around this possibility over the past several years, amid growing competition between the two countries.

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security distributed a file Intelligence Bulletin Law enforcement partners across the country have warned that DJI, which has been actively looking for clients among law enforcement agencies, may not be able to retain this data from the Chinese government. Earlier that year, the US military also released a similar missile Warning, as well as instructing to “stop all use, uninstall all DJI applications, and remove all batteries/storage media from devices.”

Some national security experts have argued that threat assessments are theoretical and not based on clear evidence.

In 2018, the Department of Defense took action even further, issuing a ban on the purchase and use of all off-the-shelf commercial drones, regardless of manufacturer, due to cybersecurity concerns. Earlier this year, the Pentagon released another note Emphasizing that department officials believe DJI poses “potential threats to national security” — and refuting reports that DJI equipment has been cleared for purchase. The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2019, Congress passed legislation to specifically ban drones manufactured in China or with Chinese-made parts, prompting a group of federal agencies to stop using their drones. The US Department of the Interior, which uses technology to track wildfires and monitor dams, volcanoes, and wildlife across 500 million acres of US land, Its entire fleet. In the previous year, the department made about 11,000 flights with its fleet of 800 drones.

Then, two days before he left office, President Donald Trump issued a memo executive order Imposing restrictions on the use of many foreign-made drones and encouraging the use of domestic aircraft. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a Measurement to impose a five-year ban on all US government purchases of Chinese drones and parts.

DJI did not respond to a request for comment, but the company has consistently denied allegations that it is providing the data to the Chinese government, and some national security experts have argued that threat assessments are theoretical and not based on clear evidence. “Under the previous administration, we saw a lot of warnings and backlash against Chinese tech companies that were sometimes justified on flimsy legal grounds, or without solid evidence behind them,” Kania said. “If there is a real serious security concern, as it may be, it reflects the failure of the US government to raise awareness and ensure that restrictions on the use of DJI drones are enforced.”

Prior to the 2017 memos, DJI drones were used extensively by the US government, including by federal agencies, the military and more than 900 Law enforcement and emergency service departments at the state and local levels. The lack of clarity and uniform policy at the government level led to inconsistent responses to warnings across public agencies. While some have responded to calls to stop using DJI drones, the US Secret Service and the FBI have continued to purchase and use DJI drones, the Axios recently. mentioned.

At the state and local level, it’s unclear how many police departments other than the NYPD continue to use DJI drones, but the five-year ban is currently under review in Congress. can prevent Police departments that use drones have access to federal funding.

DJI Experience Store

Drones are displayed at the DJI Experience Store in Yantai, Shandong Province, China, on September 30, 2021.

Photo: Tang Ke/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

cheap watch

The New York Police Department announced the purchase of its DJI-made fleet in December 2018, more than a year after federal officials issued the first warnings about the company. The administration described the 14 drones as an “advanced technology” that would enable “highly trained cops to be more responsive to the people we serve,” then-Police Commissioner James B. O’Neill said in statment.

according to Department dataNYPD has deployed its drones dozens of times since it first acquired it. Greco, who has monitored the administration’s use of drones, noted that drones have been sent to large rallies and protests such as the Women’s Day March, Pride Parade, and Puerto Rican Day Parade. In its reports, the administration said that drones were used in such events for purposes such as monitoring “vehicular traffic and pedestrian congestion” or conducting “surface security surveillance.”

The NYPD has also sent drones to fly over police operations, for example when dozens of riot officers surrounded a residence. Derek Ingram, a Brooklyn police activist identified through facial recognition technology and photos taken during the protests.

“A cheap drone could make surveillance more effective and affordable.”

Civil rights advocates say there is reason to question whether police should use drones at all — given their inherent potential for use in mass surveillance. “A cheap drone can make surveillance more effective and affordable,” Kania said. “There are perfectly legitimate concerns, not just for DJI but for the use of drones for policing in general, when it comes to civil liberties and privacy, the affordability of that surveillance, and the lowering of the cost and making it more accessible as a law enforcement tool.”

Greco, of Legal Aid, said this is a more pressing concern for many New Yorkers than the possibility that NYPD data might end up in the hands of the Chinese government. “The average citizen in New York is more concerned about the NYPD than about what might leak back into China, and there is great concern about the NYPD using these drones to spy on individuals, particularly in mass protests.”

a proposed bill Currently on the Senate table imposes severe restrictions on the use of drones by law enforcement, including a ban on the use of drones at concerts, protests, and other constitutionally protected gatherings. Privacy advocates, such as STOP, have called on lawmakers to move forward: Ban all police drones and ban police from buying drone footage from private companies.

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