Chinese Drone Maker DJI Faces More U.S. Restrictions

DJI creates more than half of the drones purchased in the United States. DJI

A top federal regulator wants to slap new restrictions on the best-selling drone manufacturer in the U.S., saying the Chinese company poses a national security risk.

The Federal Communications Commission’s commissioner Brendan Carr called on regulators Tuesday to begin the process of adding Shenzhen-based DJI to a list of companies that the U.S. Universal Service Fund is prohibited from purchasing from.

More than half of all drones sold in the U.S. are made by DJI.

“DJI drones…are collecting vast amounts of sensitive data,” said a statement from Carr. The release said data collected includes high-resolution images of “critical infrastructure,” “facial recognition technology,” and “large quantities of personal information” from smartphones of drone pilots.

Chinese law allows its government to “compel DJI to assist it in espionage activities,” the statement said.

DJI said in a statement on its website that it “takes the privacy of our customers’ data very seriously, and we are constantly taking steps to improve data security in many ways. DJI does not access the flight logs, photos, or videos generated during drone flights unless customers choose to actively share that data.”

Carr’s announcement is just the latest development following a series of recent federal actions targeting Chinese-made drones.

Last December, the U.S. Department of Commerce banned DJI drones. In January of 2020, the U.S. Department of Interior announced the temporary grounding of its entire fleet of approximately 800 Chinese drones for non-emergency operations. A DOI spokesperson said the grounding would be ongoing, pending a review for “the possibility of threats.” The DOI uses its drones in part to battle wildfires.

The DOI grounding came a year after the Department of Homeland Security warned about DJI drones, saying in a statement the “United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data.”

Congress prohibited the Department of Defense from purchasing Chinese-made drones beginning in 2020, citing national security concerns.

Thom is a former senior editor for FLYING. Previously, his freelance reporting appeared in aviation industry magazines. Thom also spent three decades as a TV and digital journalist at CNN’s bureaus in Washington and Atlanta, eventually specializing in aviation. He has reported from air shows in Oshkosh, Farnborough and Paris. Follow Thom on Twitter @thompatterson.

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