Enough Chinese-made recreational drones have been spotted in restricted airspace in the Washington, D.C. area to raise foreign espionage concerns among U.S. government agencies and lawmakers alike.

The drones, which are manufactured by DJI and sold at major retailers, can be altered by users to override the geofencing limitations that prevent the devices from flying over sensitive locations. 

According to a media report, hundreds of these drones have been detected recently in restricted airspace but U.S. officials, at this time, are not alleging that the Chinese government is directing them. The report noted, however, that DJI has received funding from investors tied to the Chinese government. 

Members on the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce and Intelligence committees have received classified briefings on the matter. Some legislation has been introduced to update current laws surrounding recreational drone use but they have not passed out of Congress. Foreign espionage concerns will likely play a part in future deliberations. 

“Any technological product with origins in China or Chinese companies holds a real risk and potential of vulnerability that can be exploited both now and in a time of conflict,” said Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, vice chair of the Intelligence Committee. “They’re manufactured in China or manufactured by a Chinese company, but they’ll put a sticker on it of some non-Chinese company that repackages it so you don’t even know that you’re buying it.”

DJI responded to the concerns of U.S. officials.

“Unfortunately, while DJI puts everything in place to identify and notify our customers about areas in which they can’t fly, we can’t control the end users’ behavior,” said Arianne Burrell, communications manager for DJI Technology. “But we do everything from our end to ensure that they do follow the regulations that are set out by their localities.”

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