Interior Department grounds drone fleet amid concerns of Chinese spying

Drone operations will still be allowed in some emergency situations.

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The Department of Interior has a fleet of more than 800 drones. 

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The Department of Interior has officially grounded its drone fleet until it completes a review of "cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns." The move, part of an order signed Wednesday by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, was spurred by concerns that drones made in China or with Chinese parts could be used for espionage or cyberattacks. 

"Drones are important to critical Department of the Interior missions, such as combating wildfires and conducting life-saving search and rescue operations," said DOI spokesperson Carol Danko on Wednesday. "However, we must ensure that the technology used for these operations is such that it will not compromise our national security interests." 

The department has a fleet of more than 800 drones, most of which are made in China or include Chinese-made parts. Drone operations were temporarily halted last October, except in emergency situations. Since then, the DOI has only performed 12 drone flights, according senior interior officials.

The new order, reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, continues to allow drone use for approved emergencies, like fighting wildfires and search and rescue, as well as training for emergency situations.

It's unclear how long the review of the departments drone program will take. DOI is working with intelligence agencies on the review process, senior officials said. 

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