DJI drone (ms_pics_and_more / Shutterstock.com)

FCC commissioner calls for tighter restrictions on DJI drones

Citing security risks, a top Federal Communications Commission official has proposed limiting the sale of drones manufactured by DJI, a company based in Shenzhen, China.

The action proposed by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr would prohibit Universal Service Fund dollars from being used to purchase DJI equipment. The FCC statement went on to say that the commission is also exploring adding DJI to its covered list, consisting of communications equipment and services deemed to pose an unacceptable security risk.

DJI’s products are immensely popular among commercial and personal users, accounting for more than 50% of the U.S. market, including state and local governments that have been using drones for public safety, disaster response and inspecting critical infrastructure.

The potential security risks stem from the fact that the drones collect vast amounts of sensitive data – from images of critical infrastructure and law enforcement actions to sensor readings of individuals’ body temperature and personal information from users’ smartphones. Additionally, DJI customers must download proprietary software that may have privacy issues.  

“[O]ne former Pentagon official stated that ‘we know that a lot of the information is sent back to China from’ DJI drones,” Carr said. “We do not need an airborne version of Huawei,” he added, citing the Chinese telecommunications company already on the FCC’s covered list.

Since 2017, federal agencies have suggested that DJI could be harvesting sensitive data for the Chinese government. As recently as July, the Department of Defense reiterated that it will continue to ban DJI products and stated that it remains convinced these systems “pose potential threats to national security,” the FCC statement said.

Based on these concerns, the federal government has taken a number of steps to hit back at potential security threats, like grounding fleets of DJI drones. But Carr urged more sweeping action.

“[T]he widespread use of DJI drones by various state and local public safety and law enforcement agencies as well as news reports that the U.S. Secret Service and FBI recently bought DJI drones, and the need for quick action on the potential national security threat is clear,” he said.

While evidence of security concerns related to DJI drones has been building for years, “consistent and comprehensive approach to addressing DJI’s potential threats is not in place,” Carr said. “That is why the FCC should take the necessary steps to consider adding DJI to our Covered List.”

About the Author

Shourjya Mookerjee is an associate editor for GCN and FCW. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and has written for Vox Media, Fandom and a number of capital-area news outlets. He can be reached at [email protected] – or you can find him ranting about sports, cinematography and the importance of local journalism on Twitter @byShourjya.

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