A Chinese graduate student at the University of Minnesota is facing rare Espionage Act charges related to drone photography near a U.S. naval shipyard in Virginia.

Shi Fengyun, currently restricted to Virginia while awaiting trial, is accused of violating two seldom-used provisions of the Espionage Act, which prohibit photographing vital military installations and using aircraft (in this case, a drone) to do so.

Court documents allege that in January 2024, Shi travelled to Virginia on leave from his studies and rented a car. He allegedly flew a drone in bad weather near the Newport News Shipyard, a facility actively manufacturing nuclear submarines and the latest generation of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.

When the drone became lodged in a tree, Shi reportedly approached a neighbour for help. The neighbour, suspicious of Shi’s nationality and purpose, contacted authorities who questioned him. Shi then abandoned the scene, leaving the drone behind. Examination of the drone’s memory card revealed images of the shipyard and BAE Systems facilities.

According to local media, the U.S. Department of Justice is declining to comment on the case, including whether they suspect Shi of acting on behalf of the Chinese government.

Although satellites routinely capture similar imagery, the rationale behind pursuing a case against Shi remains unclear. Some speculate that Shi’s nationality may have influenced the DOJ’s decision, though no charges directly related to espionage have been filed.

Legal experts warn that prosecuting cases under these statutes can have unintended consequences, potentially against First Amendment rights. Photographing in public spaces is generally protected by the American Constitution. Experts argue that the case could serve as a valuable opportunity to clarify the legal boundaries surrounding photography of sensitive military installations.

Previous cases involving these statutes have often resulted in settlements favouring individuals who were questioned or detained for photographing military facilities.

Shi’s trial is scheduled to begin this month.

Maybe he should have read the American Defence Journal’s equivalent of this.

Is it legal to film naval shipyards with a drone?

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Simon
Simon (@guest_824373)
8 days ago

The lad will be lawyered up and sue for harassment.

Mr Bell
Mr Bell (@guest_824385)
8 days ago

I’m glad the USA is aware of the malign intent of China and are taking action to protect their national security. Meanwhile in the UK the Chinese embassy staff assaulted free Tibet protestors outside one of their premises in Manchester, dragged him into the premises and continued to beat him up. All captured on camera and yet no one was removed from the UK or arrested for breaking UK law.
This country has become a totally soft touch and is no longer prepared to stand up for freedom and the law.

Coll
Coll (@guest_824397)
8 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Not to mention the Chinese overseas police (ccp) stations used to work with Chinese embassies to make dissidents and students in check. Also, Chinese students got a lecturer fired talking about tiananmen massacre at a London University.

Last edited 8 days ago by Coll
Coll
Coll (@guest_824485)
7 days ago
Reply to  Coll

Michelle Shipworth was the lecturer’s name.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_824599)
7 days ago
Reply to  Coll

They should have publicised and then fired these students!

David Owen
David Owen (@guest_824582)
7 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Mr bell ,I applaud 👏 you sir 👏 🙌 🙏 👌, expose these pigs ,

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_824601)
7 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

I think I remember seeing this on the news here too. Seriously, i hopefully those responsible for that behaviour got reprimanded and told to bugger off back home!

Levi Goldsteinberg
Levi Goldsteinberg (@guest_824404)
8 days ago

The enemy is within

DanielMorgan
DanielMorgan (@guest_824408)
8 days ago

The US Navy is reporting two to three attempted infiltrations per week at Naval Bases alone. The US has had an influx of illegal Chinese immigrants and many aliens on the terrorism list since Biden took office and deliberately allowed mass illegal immigration into the US.

Coll
Coll (@guest_824487)
7 days ago
Reply to  DanielMorgan

An ex-CIA officer accused of spying for China pleaded guilty in Hawaii federal court recently.

Lonpfrb
Lonpfrb (@guest_824562)
7 days ago
Reply to  DanielMorgan

Is that the same President who said he wanted to sign a new border control act developed in the Congess through bi-partisan efforts on both sides, only for the act to be blocked by the speaker on the wishes of an unelected citizen who says that only he can be allowed to solve the US border issues? Currently that unelected citizen is too busy Making Accountability Great Again to care for USA national interests. He now has 34 convictions for election interference to add to his proven fraud and rape charges, so it seems that a life of crime and… Read more »

Patrick C
Patrick C (@guest_825955)
23 hours ago
Reply to  Lonpfrb

you obviously didn’t look at the “strong border control bill” he proposed. it would have still allowed illegals at the rate of 3,500 per day (1.27 million per year) AND immediately given everyone crossing work permits which would have completely screwed over actual americans. calling it a “border security bill” is an insult and really shows just how much you actually understand the situation. but since republicans blocked the bill now he and his useful idiots can claim its now republicans fault for the open border. insanity.

Lonpfrb
Lonpfrb (@guest_826213)
5 minutes ago
Reply to  Patrick C

#45 wants to own the border law for his own political advantage so doesn’t care about a bipartisan agreement that is better than before so only an extreme position will do. As usual that’s a lie because it’s normal to improve laws over time with the best interests of all citizens in mind, and learning from what works, or doesn’t. Of course the interest of businesses and of employees are different which is why unions are required and so is some encouragement for businesses not to chase the money by offshore manufacturing. Looking back to #45 term, he only made… Read more »

Ex-RoyalMarine
Ex-RoyalMarine (@guest_824418)
8 days ago

I would say he is in the Shi………. Being serious for a moment. When would it be a normal activity for a foreign national, a Chinese national at that, to hire a car, and drive several hours before choosing to fly a drone over a US Aircraft carrier under construction? A sensitive installation where the Russians and Chinese would love to get as much data on areas that may be exposed during construction. I would imagine the US Courts will decide it is not a reasonable activity, especially for a citizen of a country synonymous with spying on US and… Read more »

Lonpfrb
Lonpfrb (@guest_824568)
7 days ago
Reply to  Ex-RoyalMarine

A country known for disrespect of fair trade, international rule of law, intellectual property and human rights. Their strategy of mercantile and manufacturing global domination is an international threat, already making weak countries offers they can’t afford to achieve hostage lending and expand CCP sovereign bases globally. Sri Lanka for example. The only vote we have with the CCP dictatorship is not to buy their supposedly cheap products which in reality is an exchange of sovereign capabilities and so a loss of freedom. A very bad bargain and something not priced into the deal at all, which allows the globalist… Read more »

Simon
Simon (@guest_825475)
3 days ago
Reply to  Ex-RoyalMarine

Obviously an ex president had military gov papers in bathroom of his Florida home.

David Owen
David Owen (@guest_824579)
7 days ago

Good on the Americans prosecuting a little Chinese spy,I wish they would execute him ,send a message to the Chinese bastards, unlike the spineless bastards (the tories)of who I wonder have taken Chinese money and some of them have ,time for a crack down on the Chinese, thatcher would never allowed that to happen ,British corrupt politicians make me angry, mind thy self and betray our country for money ,

Patrick C
Patrick C (@guest_825956)
23 hours ago
Reply to  David Owen

yep. and deport any chinese or russians trying to cross the southern border after a lengthy interrogation. death to anyone conducting espionage. can’t believe how weak the west has gotten.

David Owen
David Owen (@guest_826124)
7 hours ago
Reply to  Patrick C

Bang on patrick 👏 👌 👍