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United States to Ban DJI and Autel

If you’ve been taking shade and comfort under a rock, you may have missed some of the recent developments in the greater drone community, such as the recent banning of DJI aircraft from use by the State of Florida public services.

Florida has recently banned the use of DJI from the public services sector. You know – Fire, Police, Search and Rescue. Those guys! Among others.

This is bad news for those who have already purchased such equipment and even worse for those who were actively applying it in the field, to the great benefit of their communities.

That’s not all. Arkansas, Mississippi, Oregon, and California, among others, have started to either do the same or are looking to do so in the near future.

What if this were decided on a Federal Level? After all, DJI or any China-made drone appears to be the target here. This all seems to stem from the American Security Drone Act of 2021 and the Countering CCP Drones Act of 2022.

The very first attack of this nature came out of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2019. This was when DJI and others were first blacklisted by the Department of Defense. Till now, this has only left public services affected.

With the current House of Representatives Bill H-6572, this ban could easily ground any DJI aircraft you own personally. Oh, yes, you read that right. Your Mini 3 to your Mavic 3 and every other DJI product you may own would be grounded and unlawful to fly.

That is, if such a Bill were to be passed and make it through the process of becoming law.

I myself would be out of business, as DJI is what I use, and there just really is no American-made system that comes close.

Now, a good question to ask here is, why? The short answer is security. That’s what they claim, anyway.

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It’s a nonsensical answer since DJI has proudly and compliantly provided all means of proving that their aircraft are secure and any data recorded by the aircraft isn’t shared with anyone. That’s a fact. It has been proven out a few times by people much smarter than me.

Texas A&M, for example, and the US Department of Defense would be another.

The Department of Homeland Security previously ran tests on the DJI Mavic Pro and Matrice 600 Pro in 2019 and didn’t find evidence of data being sent to places it shouldn’t.

Another report that looked at three DJI drones, including the Government Editions of the aforementioned drones, came to the same conclusion in early 2020.

What is really astounding about this is that there have been and will continue to be actual Chinese Government owned and operated satellites flying overhead and have been for decades now with systems that rival any a drone manufacturer could put out.

I remember back in the early 90s when it was leaked out that these satellites could read a license plate from space. From SPACE!

Since then, they have become more abundant and even better equipped. They can now count the hairs on a beachgoer’s bum.

So, security doesn’t seem to be the issue then. If that were so, shouldn’t we be more worried about those pesky satellites than a drone you purchased lawfully, and I will point it out, at no small expense?

So, what is this House Bill H-6572? Here are some comments from those who are pushing this and more.

Senator Rick Scott said, “I’m proud to join my colleagues to reintroduce my American Security Drone Act, which will help protect our national security and the privacy of American citizens by prohibiting the federal government from buying drones manufactured by our adversaries. I’ve been very clear about the threat we face from technology companies controlled by Communist China, which is known for espionage and theft of technology. For too long, the United States has used taxpayer dollars to buy drones from companies backed by the Communist Chinese Government, allowing one of the United States’ biggest adversaries into the most sensitive areas of our government and putting our national security at risk. There’s absolutely no reason we should allow this to continue. We must pass the American Security Drone Act immediately.”

Senator Chris Murphy said, “In no way shape or form should we be using taxpayer dollars to purchase drones from foreign adversaries—especially countries like China that have stolen sensitive information from us in the past. I’m glad to reintroduce the American Security Drone Act that bans this practice and in turn supports U.S. manufacturers and our national security.”

Senator Marco Rubio said, “Chinese companies routinely steal U.S. intellectual property and seek to undermine our national security. The national security risks associated with Chinese-manufactured drones are well known, and a number of federal agencies have already taken steps to mitigate this threat. The American Security Drone Act would make sure that American policies do not invite this malicious behavior from the Chinese Communist Party by prohibiting taxpayer dollars to be used to buy drones from Chinese companies or other foreign adversaries.”

Senator Tom Cotton said, “China has stolen sensitive drone technology from America’s businesses and military for years, and now sells it back to us from a dominant position in the commercial drone market. Relying on drones made by our adversaries is a clear risk to our national security. This bill will ensure that all drones purchased by the U.S. government are made right here in America, or else by friendly nations that don’t wish us harm.”

Senator Josh Hawley said, “For decades, the Chinese Communist Party and its companies have stolen America’s sensitive technology and used it to boost their military and economy. It has to end. We must take this common-sense step of banning the federal acquisition of drones from nations like China to strengthen our supply chains and better protect our national security.”

What’s in this Bill?

The American Security Drone Act:

  • Prohibits federal departments and agencies from procuring certain foreign commercial off-the-shelf drones or covered unmanned aircraft systems manufactured or assembled in countries identified as national security threats, and provides a timeline to end the current use of these drones.
  • Prohibits the use of federal funds awarded through certain contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements to state or local governments from being used to purchase foreign commercial off-the-shelf drones or covered unmanned aircraft systems manufactured or assembled in a country identified as a national security threat.
  • Requires the Comptroller General of the United States to submit a report to Congress detailing the amount of foreign commercial off-the-shelf drones and covered unmanned aircraft systems procured by federal departments and agencies from countries identified as national security threats.

Now, as we showed above, this is the actual bill H-6572. This particular bill would be in conjunction with the American Security Drone Act and is referred to as the Countering Chinese Drones Act.

Here’s a statement made by Congresswomen Elise Stefanik, one of those who introduced this bill.

“DJI drones pose the national security threat of Huawei, but with wings. The possibility that DJI drones could be equipped to send live imagery of military installations, critical infrastructure, and the personal lives of American citizens to China poses too great a threat. Allowing this practice to continue in the U.S. is playing with fire. This Chinese-controlled company cannot be allowed to continue to operate in the U.S.” said Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.

As this concerns all of us drone pilots – GPS, FPV, all of us, I reached out to an authority on the subject, and he was gracious enough to take the time and provide a quoted response.

Ryan Latourette is a Legal Strategist and one of our biggest advocates in the industry and community. Ryan is also an IT Manager for the State of Michigan – DTMB.

Here’s what he had to say on the matter.

There isn’t much foresight in attempting to ban the leading manufacturer of drones from the marketplace.  The anti-globalism sentiment driving the interest to shift to American companies may look good on a campaign advertisement but if the American companies are using all foreign-sourced parts to create their products, have you really made a dent in the trade deficit?  Similarly, it is widely accepted that DJI’s significant market share is due to higher quality, greater features, and reasonable value propositions in relation to their competitors. A ban means forcing police, fire, and other emergency rescue or national defense organizations to use more costly and potentially less capable UAS. 

It also becomes an unfunded mandate of having to scrap existing highly capable UAS that were previously acquired.  Government agencies already are pinched in having funds to maintain existing UAS let alone have to do a fire sale and start from scratch. I strongly believe that government officials are misinformed about the intentions or political alignments of DJI.  I also see part of this push to ban DJI being the interest of opening up and giving a foothold in the UAS marketplace to US manufacturers

Rather than ban a product so widely used that is right now literally saving lives and saving money in local governments across the country, the better approach to propping up US drone manufacturers is to dig deep and establish significant grants, low-interest loans, and tax incentives to US-based companies.  Set up thresholds to monitor and ensure that the receiving companies are using the leg up in funding to meet annual targets in chipping away at the market share and producing advanced technology that will make them industry leaders over time.

I couldn’t be in more agreement with what Ryan states above. I’m not one to ever get too political on any topic, really. This one, though, I don’t think we have any choice but to.

We as a community need to get our voices heard. So, reach out to your lawmakers and let them know. We should be heard as well. I am more than happy and willing to take any of our representatives for a ride along on a drone flight.

I still feel that the problem lies in those making these decisions just needing to be educated on what is available and why it all comes from dreaded China.

Even such systems as that of Parrot or Skydio have Chinese-made circuitry. As to Teal or Brink, I wouldn’t know, as those systems were never designed for the consumer, and compared to better products available in the form of DJI or Autel, they’re severely overpriced and outmatched in quality and ability.

With the some to be mandated RID alone, it should show just how difficult it was for these systems to be retrofitted so that they could share data, such as the UAV’s location and so forth. Security indeed!

Before I let you go, here’s a response from DJI after working with the Department of Defense and the release of their report on the matter.

This was the response provided to the Verge by DJI.

This DOD statement confirms what DJI was told by a DOD official earlier this year, that an internal, technical security review involving reverse-engineering of all source code was performed on DJI products and that this deep technical analysis confirmed DJI products show no malicious code or intent and are recommended for use from a security perspective. It was not a report that commented on or changed DOD procurement policy, which is governed by a 2019 statute, and which is what the DOD statement last week simply reiterates. The DOD source code analysis is the latest on a long list of third-party security examinations of DJI technology during the past three years, and no evidence has ever been presented in support of the notion that DJI products are a threat to national security.

Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!