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Drones used to enforce social distancing in US reportedly ‘donated’ by Chinese tech company

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As social distancing and other coronavirus guidelines kicked into place across the nation, Americans began to see the use of drones in issuing safety reminders.

Talking drones warned pedestrians to keep a safe distance from each other in New York City while in New Jersey, residents heard a drone tell them in an automated message to “stop gathering, disperse, and go home.” But while concerns over privacy issues and violations of First Amendment rights emerged over the use of the drones, another eye-brow raising detail soon got attention.

Elizabeth Harrington, the national spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, shared an MSNBC report  Friday about drones being used in Elizabeth, N.J. The Elizabeth Police Department was using the drones to patrol the city in an effort to reportedly enforce social distancing rules.

“Summonses HAVE AND WILL CONTINUE to be issued to those found in violation,” the police department noted in a Facebook message earlier this month.

 

During Mayor Chris Bollwage daily COVID-19 Updates, he mentioned the Elizabeth Police Department implementing drones around the City of Elizabeth to help combat people not following social distancing.

We have been using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones) since 2018, however, the new models are equipped with voice capabilities. We were able to secure 5 DJI Mavic 2 UAV, on loan through DJI’s Public Safety Disaster Relief Program – thank you to Wayne Baker, the DJI Director of Public Safety Integration.

These drones will be around the City with an automated message from the Mayor telling you to STOP gathering, disperse and go home.

Summonses HAVE AND WILL CONTINUE to be issued to those found in violation.

Fines are up to $1000.

You have been advised.

Posted by Elizabeth Police Department on Tuesday, April 7, 2020

(Source: Facebook)

But, as the MSNBC report noted and the Elizabeth PD explained, the newest drones were “on loan.”

“We have been using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones) since 2018, however, the new models are equipped with voice capabilities. We were able to secure 5 DJI Mavic 2 UAV, on loan through DJI’s Public Safety Disaster Relief Program – thank you to Wayne Baker, the DJI Director of Public Safety Integration,” the Facebook post read.

And the MSNBC report indicated that the drones were “donated by DJI, a Chinese company,” and “have gone to 43 agencies in 22 states, all to help enforce social distancing rules.”

DJI bills itself as a “privately owned and operated company” with offices in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

“Headquartered in Shenzhen, widely considered China’s Silicon Valley, DJI benefits from direct access to the suppliers, raw materials, and young, creative talent pool necessary for sustained success. Drawing on these resources, we have grown from a single small office in 2006 to a global workforce,” the company’s website states.

(Image: screengrab)

“US using Chinese drones to spy on and lecture Americans about a virus caused by communist China,” Harrington wrote in the caption accompanying her tweet of the video report.

Drones were used by the Communist Chinese government in January in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak,  employing the use of cameras and loudspeakers to watch citizens, issue warnings and even report them for violations.

The New Jersey police department was inundated with messages from concerned residents when the use of the drones in Elizabeth was announced.

“No recording or pictures are taken, just a tool of encouragement to follow the rules,” the Department responded, adding that it was in the business of saving lives, not trying to be Big Brother.

Harrington cited a report from The New York Times back in November of 2017 relating how US officials believed DJI “may be sending sensitive information about American infrastructure back to China.”

“American intelligence and political circles are beginning to consider how companies and governments manage the data they collect. Given that major Chinese companies must maintain close ties to the government, new China tech players like D.J.I. have raised particular concerns,” the Times article reported more than two years ago. “This summer, the United States Army issued guidance calling for forces to stop using D.J.I. drones because of unspecified security vulnerabilities.”

“If China gives you a drone to combat a virus CAUSED by communist China, maybe think twice about using it,” Harrington noted in another tweet. “You would think this goes without saying.”

Frieda Powers

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