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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.