FCC Commissioner: DJI is “Huawei on Wings”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will commence a process to add SZ DJI Technology Company (DJI), the world’s largest drone maker, to the agency’s “Covered List” of restricted equipment producers, Commissioner Brendan Carr announced during a roundtable forum hosted yesterday by China Tech Threat.

“DJI is ‘Huawei on wings,’” Commissioner Carr stated. “Most people don’t understand the vast amounts of information being collected by drones.”

DJI controls about a 50 percent share of the U.S. drone market and 70 percent of the global consumer and enterprise drone market.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) can leverage vulnerabilities in drone equipment to collect sensitive information on U.S. infrastructure, law enforcement and national security targets. The devices can employ facial recognition technology and even detect heart rates and body temperature, Commissioner Carr noted. Additionally, apps used to operate drones can collect personal information off smartphones, which may be stored on Chinese servers and accessed by the PRC.

While the U.S. Department of Defense banned DJI drones and the U.S. Commerce Department added the company to the U.S. Entity List, the devices have been used by the Secret Service and FBI. “It’s troublesome,” Commission Carr said, “particularly because Chinese national security law compels DJI to assist in espionage activity.”

Federal restrictions have been inconsistent, he added. “The Department of Defense can’t fly a DJI drone, but companies can, and state and local agencies can.”

The FCC’s review of DJI is an extenuation of the Commission’s “top-to-bottom” review of carriers and equipment makers with ties to the PRC. Commissioner Carr noted that the FCC initiated an equipment authorization review this year to close a “massive loophole.” The very real national security threat comes from its presence in the network, not the source of the dollars used to fund it,” he explained.

China Tech Threat commends Commissioner Carr’s call to add DJI to the Covered List, which is a necessary policy measure to protect Americans’ privacy and security.