A fascinating story broke yesterday. US law enforcement has been using Chinese-made drones to enforce coronavirus lockdown. Worry soon spread that Beijing could spy on American citizens. You’d think a Trump administration, known for its anti-Beijing stance, would chuckle at the proposal of such an idea. Surveillance and espionage is Beijing’s forte. Xi Jinping’s eyes haunt the lives of millions in communist China. They may now loom over thousands of Americans too.
Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) made the drones that have gone to some 43 law enforcement agencies in 22 states. In New Jersey, police are using them to spy on citizens where patrol cars can’t go. State monitoring has become part and parcel of the coronavirus response; the West has sacrificed liberty for safety. Johnson’s cabinet is currently considering immunity passports – something we’d expect to see in a dystopian futurama flick or, in fact, China.
The company, of course, denies any ulterior motive. Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for DJI Technology claimed, “Some people are trying to score ideological points by discouraging the use of important equipment and tools that save lives and protect America first responders”. Piffle, the spokesman seems to have forgotten the invention of helicopters. Not to mention drone manufacturers who aren’t in league with the Chinese state. There are plenty of avenues to carry out surveillance – not that they should be.
DJI put out a statement declaring: “All DJI customers have complete control over any photos, videos and flight logs they generate during operations”. Insisting that no data can be transferred unless selected to do so. Except an expert with deep ties to the American intelligence community suggested otherwise – no one at DJI would be aware of data transferrals bar DJI’s founder Frank Wang and the Chinese government. Numerous intelligence officials recommended grounding DJI’s entire fleet pre-coronavirus.
Could this be something of a Trojan horse? It follows a trend where Western countries buy up Chinese technologies and integrate them as part of their infrastructure. Huawei’s 5G network stirred up similar uncertainty when the government announced the Chinese firm would have access to 35 percent of the UK’s network. As did the rice grain-sized microchip that Chinese subcontractors installed while manufacturing servers for US-based Elemental Technologies. By law, Beijing controls and regulates the most profitable firms.
Our apparent affinity for Chinese technological components is troublesome. Not only does it make Western economies reliant on China, but it compromises their security. They are our ideological enemy – a society permeated by collectivism and authoritarianism. One which has also facilitated total economic disruption. The West cannot sacrifice its security for the sake of convenience – especially as it stumbles over the hurdles of jump-starting the economy. We must onshore and rebuilt for the long term. Much like coronavirus has taught us with medical supplies and apparatus.
Once you know how a system works, you can abuse it. You learn its intricacies, functions and operations to better infiltrate and manipulate. The presence of any large Chinese company operating in the West is cause for concern. As Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz put it, “We should not be spied on by our government and giving information then to a foreign government that’s hostile”.
Privacy is a rare commodity in our day and age. If people thought our government’s program of mass surveillance was bad enough, surveillance by a hostile, foreign power will prove much worse. Certainly, it presents another warning to the West. It is time to become more self-reliant and trade with allies. I much prefer an eye in the sky which belongs to my own government than one that belongs to China – no matter the cost.