The U.S. Interior Department is now probing all civilian drone programs, which have used technology made by Chinese company DJI because of increasing concerns of them posing a national security risk.
That move is now set to be made permanent, the Financial Times reported.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the department is planning to shut down the use of almost 1,000 civilian drones after discovering the high risk involved in the Chinese government using the drones to spy on the US.
The interior department has already temporarily grounded drones with cameras, which the agency used to tackle wildfires and to map terrain, while their risks were reviewed.
Sources also told FT that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has not signed an official policy but is planning to pull the fleet from action, with exceptions for emergencies like fighting wildfires and training.
The civilian drones, which are often used to monitor endangered species, inspect federally protected land and fight forest fires, will be restricted for use only in emergency situations until potential security risks are fully reviewed.
The Interior Department hasn't responded to a request for comment.
"While we have not seen the new policy, we look forward to reviewing the findings of DOI'S comprehensive review of its drone programme", the company said in a statement.
This wouldn't come out of the blue. The company has faced increasing scrutiny amid trade tensions between the United States and China, with the Trump administration voicing concerns that its drones could be sending sensitive surveillance data back to China. Given those concerns, it seems a bit unusual that the entire fleet would now be grounded exclusively due to the fact that the drones are DJI-manufactured. FT said it saw documents showing that the Fish and Wildlife Service had to cancel flights for counting animals and monitoring controlled burns, while the Geological Survey has used drones for agricultural monitoring, natural disaster prep and flood responses. Unless the Interior Department can find US-made drones (which might not happen for years), it would have to either rely on far costlier and riskier crewed aircraft or else drop certain projects altogether.