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A DJI drone. The United States government is preparing to ban all drones made in China, including those made by DJI, a Chinese company. (Photo: ekai used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

U.S. Government May Ban Chinese-Made Drones

The United States government is finalizing a law to prohibit its government from using drones made in China, ainonline reports. The National Defense Authorization Act bans the purchase of commercial drones made by a “covered foreign entity” by any U.S. government agency. This ban includes drone components including drivetrains, cameras and circuit boards.

Under the new law, agencies would both be prohibited from buying new drones and from operating foreign-made drones already in its fleet. Flights of pre-bought drones will need to end within six months of the new law’s passing.

The measure will extend to drones purchased or used under federal grants and contracts as well as drones used by state and local governments.

“Drones manufactured by foreign adversaries should be nowhere near the federal government. This equipment from countries like China uses taxpayer dollars to support the Chinese Communist Party’s near-monopoly on this critical market, while also posing a serious national security threat,” said U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher per ainonline. “It is imperative that Congress pass this bipartisan bill to protect U.S. interests, our communities, and our national security supply-chain.” 

This soon-to-be-passed bill was originally presented in 2019 and only applied to drones, and parts, purchased from countries deemed national security risks.

The measure is supposedly aimed at major manufacturer DJI, which holds about 70% of the U.S. drone market. The company has faced allegations that data from its drones is harvested by the Chinese government; it denies these claims.

“We design our systems so DJI customers have full control over how or whether to share their photos, videos and flight logs and we support the creation of industry standards for drone data security that will provide protection and confidence for all drone users,” DJI said in a statement earlier this summer.

Still, The New York Times reports that vulnerabilities in an app, available on the Google Play store, that powers DJI’s drones were revealed in July. These vulnerabilities would allow for the collection of drone operators’ personal information, which could then be forwarded to Beijing. The Times’ report also says DJI can update its app without Google review changes.

“The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States,” U.S. President Donald Trump wrote when taking action to ban a number of other apps developed in or owned by Chinese companies, most notably TikTok and WeChat.

It has been rumored that, in addition to legislation currently in Congress, Trump is considering taking executive action that would ban the use of Chinese-made drones by federal agencies.

In addition to federal agencies, the Washington Free Beacon says that about 60% of all state and local law enforcement drones are Chinese made. 970 law enforcement drones use some Chinese drones to some extent. And as local law enforcement agencies have increased their use of drones over the past few years, the gravity of the allegations against Chinese companies like DJI has only become more relevant.

Editor’s Note: The headline was changed to this story on Dec. 5 to clarify the status of the amendments that had been proposed.

Author

  • John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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