China's Ministry of State Security recently issued a stark warning to drone users, highlighting the risks associated with using drones in sensitive areas.

The move is part of a broader effort to prevent the leak of state secrets, particularly when it comes to key military installations and critical geographical information (via South China Morning Post).

(Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)
This image taken on May 12, 2015 shows an unmanned drone being tested in Beijing as part of a disaster prevention and reduction campaign. China bans any flights, manned or unmanned, without prior approval from the air force, civil aviation authorities and local air traffic control.

Chinese authorities urge public vigilance over suspicious drone activities

SCMP reports that the Ministry of State Security has called on the public to report suspicious drone activities in sensitive areas.

The agency pointed to several cases in which illegal drone flights had led to unauthorized photography of confidential facilities and the dissemination of this information on the Internet.

“These illegal actions have created the risk that [details] of our country's key military facilities and important geographical information,” the ministry said in a post on its WeChat account.

Also read: China launches maiden flight of HH-100 cargo drone: A new era in air logistics

Illegal drone users face prison sentences

One notable incident involved Luo, a military technology enthusiast, who used a drone equipped with a high-resolution camera to capture images of a new warship in November 2021.

He subsequently boasted about his discovery in military forums, earning him a one-year prison sentence and an additional year of probation for “illegally obtaining state secrets,” including classified and confidential military information.

In another case, Liu, an employee of an aerial photography agency, used a drone for work purposes without permission. Liu collected photos and data from a confidential area, creating “important technical security risks.” While Liu was detained by national security authorities, no further details of the legal proceedings were released.

In addition, Li and Zhang used WeChat and cloud services to share data collected by drones in a military restricted area without permission from local air traffic control. Both were charged with illegally obtaining state secrets.

To increase safety, new regulations were issued earlier this year requiring unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators to obtain a license before flying and special permits for restricted areas, including areas around airports, borders and protected facilities. In addition, civilian drones must have certificates for surveying and mapping purposes, and foreign-owned or foreign-operated drones are prohibited from conducting certain activities in China.

Unauthorized drone flights

The problem of unauthorized drone flights is not only a problem in China. In Japan, the Ministry of Defense recently concluded that a video circulating online of Japan's largest destroyer being filmed by a drone over the Yokosuka naval base was likely authentic.

The incident, which Defense Minister Minoru Kihara described as “extremely serious,” led to calls for the introduction of advanced drone detection and jamming technologies.

In the US, a Pennsylvania man has been charged with federal charges for flying a DJI Mini 2 drone over M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore during an NFL game, violating a temporary flight ban.

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Related article: Report: China's military ambitions revealed in AI partnership with British university for 'smart military bases'

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