Multiple news sources are reporting that the US Department of the Interior has stopped using Chinese-made drones, except for those currently involved in emergency activities.
The DoI “conserves and manages [America’s] natural resources and cultural heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people.” As part of that mission, the agency uses drones for wildlife monitoring, watching wildfires, and performing various surveys.
Al Jazeera , Fortune and others reported that they have a fleet of 810 drones, almost all built by DJI or other Chinese companies. Reportedly all of the DoI’s drones are either Chinese-made or have Chinese components in them.
The concern appears to be that these drones could be “phoning home” with data or photography that could be used by the Chinese government.
Drones can send a lot of data. They communicate with “home” servers to obtain geofence data, upload flight logs, check for firmware updates, and send application performance and user experience data.
DJI has a page on what data it sends. It can be extensive if you turn it all on.
Oddly, this CNet article from June 2019 said that DJI was working with the Department of the Interior on a “government edition” drone that doesn’t communicate outside the drone and its controller. Apparently that wasn’t enough.