Chinese iPhone Smugglers Used Drones to Transport Mobile Phones Into Shenzhen

A group of iPhone-smuggling drone users was caught by China customs this week, but not before they successfully transported $79.8 million worth of phones.

byMarco Margaritoff|
Chinese iPhone Smugglers Used Drones to Transport Mobile Phones Into Shenzhen

Smuggling iPhones from one Chinese city to another might be pretty difficult through the conventional, ground-based methods, but a group of smugglers recently thought of a different way to move that payload: via drone. Unfortunately for them, China customs officials caught them in the act, as the group was attempting to transport the smartphones from Hong Kong into Shenzhen—but not before they successfully smuggled $79.8 million (500 million yuan) worth of refurbished iPhones along that same route prior to the bust. 

According to Reuters, 26 suspects were arrested. The smugglers reportedly used unmanned aerial vehicles to pilot two 660-foot cables from Hong Kong and China’s mainland as the foundation to move the series of payloads between cities. If you’re a regular reader of The Drive, you’re well aware that Shenzhen is essentially China’s tech hub, where even DJI has set up shop.

“It’s the first case found in China that drones were being used in cross-border smuggling crimes,” said the Legal Daily, who cited a Shenzhen customs news conference on Thursday. According to Reuters, the gang of smugglers would usually transport the phones in the dead of night, requiring mere seconds to get small packages holding more than 10 phones across the aforementioned distance via drones. Apparently, this group was capable of smuggling up to 15,000 iPhones across the border in one single night. While what they did was clearly illegal, those numbers are absolutely stunning. 

According to Reuters, China enacted heavy drone laws in 2017 in order to combat the frequency of near-misses with airplanes. We’ve reported on this very issue before, with Air Newzealand officials calling for harsher penalties for those breaking that law. China also established a mandatory registry for all owners of UAVs weighing a particular amount. 

Essentially, this is just another case of drones being used as a tool, like any other. For those calling for stricter regulations regarding drone ownership simply because one group of criminals used them for illegal activities, is like urging congressmen to ban hammers because someone could use one to harm someone else. However, we here at The Drive certainly encourage legal, responsible drone use—no matter how nifty they can be used for criminal activity.