DJI’s US woes persist
…FCC Commissioner wants the company the company’s wings clipped afresh
Washington, USA – Suffice to say the USA does not like China at all.
We do not wish to bore you with all the geopolitical posturing involved in the last few years, which seemed to reach its height during the Trump administration in Washington.
But what is clear right now is the US federal government will not stop until they break the spirit of one of China’s proudest industrial successes of recent times – drone maker DJI.
We all know how DJI – the world’s biggest manufacturer of small commercial drones – has been fighting espionage charges levelled against it by the US federal government since 2017, which charges have resulted in the company losing its government contracts.
But it seems the American people still love DJI drones though, as the company still enjoys a fifty percent share of drones sold on the US market.
For years now, the Americans have used DJI drones to shoot movies, guard power plants, fight fires, count wildlife, aid during search and rescue mission and assist the police in doing their work; among several other applications that drone technology has brought.
The US Department of Interior had over 800 DJI drones in use in various sections until the government ordered that they be grounded in 2019.
However, that dominance looks like it is under serious threat this time – Reuters report that a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – a government agency that implements and enforces telecommunications regulations across the U.S. and its territories – on Tuesday said he wants the telecommunications regulator to begin the process of imposing new restrictions on SZ DJI Technology Co.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said the agency should takes steps toward adding DJI to the so-called “Covered List” that would prohibit US Universal Service Fund money from being used to purchase its equipment.
DJI has maintained its drones are safe and secure for critical and sensitive operations.
“Our systems are designed so customers never have to share their photos, videos or flight logs with anyone, including DJI,” spokesperson Adam Lisberg said in a statement. “The data security architecture that protects this information has been repeatedly validated by U.S. government agencies as well as respected private cybersecurity analysts. Our customers know that DJI drones remain the most capable and most affordable products for a wide variety of uses, including sensitive industrial and government work.”
Research company Drone Analyst has sounded the warning bells tough, suggesting that adding DJI to the FCC’s Covered List might spell doom for the Chinese drone company’s prospects on US soil.
“The Covered List here doesn’t initially do much,” Drone Analyst said on its Twitter page. “But if it’s changed to also block FCC certifications, this could be an effective ban on all DJI models in the US. DJI back on the geopolitical watch. This time without a policy team…”
In March, the FCC designated five Chinese companies – Huawei Technologies Co, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corp, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co – as posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting US communications networks.
Cell phone maker Huawei was well on its way to be the first company to introduce 5G technology on its products before the ban – now its total cellular phone sales have slipped from first to ninth in the world, forcing the company to concentrate on products that have nothing to do with telecommunications, like electric cars.
In Carr’s view, DJI are Huawei on wings, and they need to be brought down.
“DJI drones and the surveillance technology on board these systems are collecting vast amounts of sensitive data – everything from high-resolution images of critical infrastructure to facial recognition technology and remote sensors that can measure an individual’s body temperature and heart rate,” Carr said in a statement. “We do not need an airborne version of Huawei.”
Carr noted that the FCC has a separate ongoing effort to decide whether to continue approving equipment from entities on the Covered List for use in the United States. He said the FCC in consultation with national security agencies “should also consider whether there are additional entities that warrant closer scrutiny.”
In December, DJI was added by the U.S. Commerce Department to the U.S. government’s economic blacklist.
In January 2020, the U.S. Interior Department said it was grounding its fleet of about 800 Chinese-made drones, and earlier halted additional Interior Department purchases of such drones.
In May 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned U.S. firms of the risks to company data from Chinese-made drones.