DJI Drones May Be Banned in the U.S. – Are They a Security Threat or Essential Support?

DJI Drones May Be Banned in the U.S. - Are They a Security Threat or Essential Support?

DJI, a Chinese company that manufactures the most popular drones in the U.S., has come under fire from the U.S. government’s Defense Department. Not only might the U.S. armed forces be prohibited from buying them in the future, according to an article in the New York Times, but the purchase ban is likely to extend to other federal agencies and programs. Will DJI drones really be banned in the U.S. this time?

Despite the fact that drones are avidly used by filmmakers in America to film scenes we never thought possible (for example, this scene in the movie “Ambulance” here or the motorbike chasing scene in “Skyfall” here), their original and primary use was for military surveillance. However, drones today are also used in real-time for search and rescue operations, monitoring wildlife, delivering medical supplies, damage assessment after a tornado or earthquake (and the list goes on) – always able to get to any place humans can’t (easily) reach. Now, the United States has considered the company a security threat, and DJI drones could be banned.

Swimmers rescued by drone. Source: National Geographic

So what’s the problem?

“DJI presents an unacceptable national security risk, and it is past time that drones made by Communist China are removed from America….Any attempt to claim otherwise is a direct result of DJI’s lobbying efforts.” 

Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York (a sponsor of the Countering CCP Drones Act)

Ms. Stefanek added that “government agencies have shown that DJI drones are providing data on “critical infrastructure” in the United States to the Chinese Communist Party,” but she did not elaborate on her statement.

DJI’s new storefront in Manhattan, New York City. Source: DJI

The Countering CCP Drones Act

The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the bill, called the Countering CCP Drones Act, unanimously last month, and it could go to the House for a vote within the next couple of months. If it passes, DJI drones would be classified as communications equipment that “pose a national security risk” and added to the FCC’s list under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019. This means they could not operate on U.S. networks.

DJI has run into trouble before. In one instance in 2020, the US Department of Commerce prohibited US-based companies from exporting technology to DJI. One of the questions raised now is whether the ban would be restricted to future DJI drone purchases or include those already in use.

One reason for the proposed DJI ban is the push for the U.S. to further develop its own drone industry since DJI dominates the market – something it has yet to do, at least in comparison to what DJI offers, despite the popularity of drones. Meanwhile, Chinese companies like TikTok and DJI are proving very popular in the United States. DJI held 58% of the drone market in 2022, and it’s likely even more now, given their high-quality products. DJI drones are, indeed, very good. We’ve reviewed the DJI Avata 2 here and the Mini 4 Pro here.

DJI drones are used for everything from search and rescue to documentary filmmaking. Source: DJI

What are the chances?

DJI is fighting back aggressively. Last year, they spent $1.6 million on lobbying Congress, according to the Times, with one argument being the lack of a U.S. company that can compete either in price or quality. They’ve also created a website called the Drone Advocacy Alliance, which is worth visiting. It offers information on how drones benefit various aspects of society and provides an option to contact Congress. Whether the benefits outweigh the (kind of vague) security concerns is beyond my knowledge, but it’s interesting to see how these little flying robots have become a part of our lives.

There are many pros and cons to the DJI drone issue – many of them valid. However, judging by the amount of use the DJI drones perform in the public safety sector alone, an alternative might be to phase down its use giving U.S. companies time to develop reasonable competition. As for filmmakers, we are a resilient and inventive group, and when challenged, we will continue to find new and creative solutions. At least, that is my hope.

What is your opinion? Should DJI drones be banned? Do you agree that they are too much of a security risk? Let us know in the comments below.


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