To Ban or Not to Ban—The Ongoing Federal Debate about the Use of Chinese Drones

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News broke recently that the Department of the Interior (DOI) plans to keep its drones grounded due to security concerns, joining the growing list of federal entities that don’t trust Chinese drones, and specifically DJI drones.


But not all federal agencies agree with a blanket ban.

Some say that a blanket ban of Chinese drones would be naive, and would not reflect the current reality of the drone landscape. And yet legislation that would prevent U.S. federal agencies from buying Chinese drones has already been proposed by members of congress (though not made into law).

Read today's article to learn more about the ongoing federal debate about whether to ban Chinese drones, and for a timeline highlighting the different moments in the DJI privacy story, starting with the U.S. Army's ban of DJI drones back in 2017.

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This debate can be settled by having an independent testing agency purchase some DJI drone models and take them apart.  Completely apart.  And see what’s inside.  The DOD DARPA labs for one.  Underwriters Laboratories or Consumer Reports testing labs another.  And the hacker community; look what they’ve accomplished in accessing WiFi routers!  If a DJI drone is sending data to China, how does it do it?  Fly a DJI drone and find (questionable) broadcast frequencies coming from either aircraft or controller.  OR  It’s the DJI GO app transmitting collected data via an Internet connection.  But this should be relatively straightforward to discover.  If someone finds truly questionable transmissions going on, then DJI may have some explaining to do.

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11 hours ago, Bill Fearheller said:

What can the Chinese learn from drones that they can't get from Google Earth, YouTube and the internet?

They can learn who is scanning what, when and how often.  So they know how many time utilities are scanning particular T-Line circuits or substations so they might be able to determine vulnerabilities in the electrical grid, aquifers, pipelines etc.  

And although it might be possible to monitor military troup movements via satellites collecting telemetry data can provide a much better granularity and real-time data. 

19 hours ago, crm357 said:

This debate can be settled by having an independent testing agency purchase some DJI drone models and take them apart.  Completely apart.  And see what’s inside.  The DOD DARPA labs for one.

Seriously?  You don’t think they’ve been doing this since 2015? 

19 hours ago, crm357 said:

It’s the DJI GO app transmitting collected data via an Internet connection.

This issue didn’t rise to the level of the US Congress banning Chinese manufactured drones on a hunch.  How do you think DJI knows your smart batteries, controller or the drone needs a firmware upgrade?  Do you ask DJI or does it just give you a message in your control that it needs one?  

20 hours ago, teamplayer said:

America has dealt with spy satellites since Senator Goldwater. 

The 70’s called, they want their spy satellite back.  This is like a bad Geco Commercial, everybody knows that, but did you know that China now has about 635,000 real-time satellites flying around at various times in the US that the American people paid for? 

20 hours ago, jwilton said:

Why risk the possibility of security issues? We can build anything in the US if that’s what it takes to remove security concerns. And, I would rather support US manufacturing if there is a viable alternative to foreign made products. 

This doesn’t make the US isolationists.  We have a situation right now where 90% of the percription drugs are manufactured in China.  There is an overwhelming concentration of manufacturing in China of all the Worlds goods.  The Caronavirus is an example of how countries need to control their own destiny when it comes to producing the goods necessary to sustain their own populations. 

Mad can debate whether drones fall into that category, but this is a ban that should have happened decades ago.  

One thing that is not up for debate; the cybersecurity risk from DJI drones and the ban.  The risk has been proven and the ban made into law.  So the debate should not be about either, it should be what do you want to do about it?

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Absolutely ban Chinese made drones.


1.  Chinese work and labor practices are beyond unethical.  From a human rights standpoint, refusing to manufacture in China is a moral imperative.


2.  The Chinese have a long and consistent track record of industrial espionage.  Does anyone have even the slightest doubt that the Chinese would not hesitate to collect every last scrap of drone data they could?  Particularly if they thought they wouldn’t get caught?


3.  A “made in America” drone industry is better all around for security and economy. an American manufactured drone industry would have greater accountability on all levels.

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I've little to say about the subject, continued.


A nod to UAV Coach, for all they do, noting online debates are my least favorite endevour here.


Responding to Chuck, Yes I did know their spending power on classified issues.  
Careful 🙂 when you say the 70's want their satellites back.  They fall out of orbit regularly, and any old backyard can be the hapless destination.  


Responding to the question and discussion as posed:

The question itself is an oxymoron on two points.

1.  Similar to the argument that guns don't kill people,  drones don't collect sensitive information, spies do. 

     There is nothing to prevent a spy from using a drone regardless of where it was manufactured.  


2.  As I have stated, The Peoples Republic of China has enough spy capability, they don't need DJI.  

     The most critical mistake a spy can make is to underestimate the adversary.  


In this instance, the CounterIntelligence agencies, and America has several; are remiss in their duty to demonstrate competence.

Edited by teamplayer
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     All I have to say is that they are a communist country.  The DOI and the Feds have every right to be suspicious, and the arguments that others make saying China gets so much data they do not know what to do with it all is meaningless.  There is, no doubt, AI programs in use that sort the info night and day and probably with incredible accuracy given the parameters.  Also, when I read about the independent consult firm being hired by DJI I thought, no there is no conflict of interest, right? (Ha!)  So, I have a DJI Spark.  It is slick and I like it and will probably use it in the near future for some local services but, hands down if there is an internal, US manufacturer / drone company I would surely buy one.  The next closest thing would be a Parrot Anafi for me but heck, this is probably made / assembled in China too.  Additional to all this is the fact that China is draconian.  Look and see how they treat their own people with the virus going around, abortions, and just general human rights.  In short, they are a nasty country.

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On 6/26/2020 at 8:04 AM, said:

I want to buy an inexpensive mini-drone (hobby/toy) that is made in America.  What U.S. companies sells them or makes them? 

Depends on how you define mini.   I’m guessing this is bigger than you’d like, but check out the SKYDIO2. 

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On 6/27/2020 at 12:04 AM, said:

I want to buy an inexpensive mini-drone (hobby/toy) that is made in America.  What U.S. companies sells them or makes them? 

I'm not aware of any US companies making inexpensive toy drones but there is a Korean startup called "this is engineering Inc." that manufactures all of their parts (except for battery I assume) and products in Korea. Their drone is called the SHIFT RED and its available for purchase on Amazon. 

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