Camera drones; the flying,
helicopter-like devices the likes of which you might
have been given for Christmas, fly in their thousands
across the US every day. They’re mostly used for
fun, but they’re also used by the US government
for more serious purposes, such as mapping terrain or
tracking wildlife movements. The problem for
the government is that these devices are almost
all made, at least in part, in China. And now officials
here in Washington have started to worry what might
happen should Beijing demand access to the images they take. This is especially a problem
for the US Department of the Interior, which uses
hundreds of these drones to do everything from fighting
wildfires to monitoring potential earthquake signs. Last year, the department
decided to temporarily ground all 810 of its drones because
every single one of them had been made, at least
in part, in China. Now, I’ve been told the
department has decided these pose a serious security
threat and is so planning to make
that ban permanent, albeit allowing for
certain kinds of flight for emergencies, for example. This is being done despite the
protests of the department’s own staff. I’ve been leaked documents which
show many of the department’s staff worrying about
what the effect would be on their daily work
should such a ban take hold permanently. Read FT.com for my
full story on this. Now, at the end of
last year, I reported on the pushback coming from
certain sections of the US technology sector against the
latest Trump administration move against Huawei, the Chinese
telecoms equipment maker. In the comments
to that piece, MK asked how this
push against Huawei fitted with the more
positive narrative that’s been going on around the
US-China trade talks. Well, this is a particularly
pertinent question now as I speak because
the phase-one China trade deal has just been signed. And I suspect that officials
in the Trump administration think now that that
agreement is in the bag, now is exactly the right
time to once more ratchet up the pressure on the Chinese
telecoms equipment maker. In fact, I would
expect to see more on exactly this thing from
the Department of Commerce in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.