In a scathing response issued January 29, China’s DJI, the world’s leader in producing civilian drones, blasted the U.S. Department of Interior’s (DOI) recent decision to ground all Chinese-made drones in its fleet as “politically-motivated country of origin restrictions masquerading as cybersecurity concerns.” The company called upon policymakers and industry stakeholders “to create clear standards that will give commercial and government drone operators the assurance they need to confidently evaluate drone technology on the merits of performance, security and reliability, no matter where it is made.”
Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed Secretary’s Order 3379 ordering the department to cease all non-emergency unmanned aircraft operations pending the results of additional cybersecurity review. The department issued a formal statement with the order saying, “After an ongoing review of Interior’s drone program, Secretary Bernhardt issued a Secretary’s Order today, affirming the temporary cessation of non-emergency drones while we ensure that cybersecurity, technology, and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed. Drone use for non-emergency operations will remain grounded while the Department of the Interior reviews the possibility of threats and ensures a secure, reliable and consistent drone policy that advances our mission while keeping America safe.”
DJI called DOI’s decision to ground its Chinese-made drone fleet baseless, and said it makes “the industry’s most safe, secure, and trusted drone platforms for commercial operators. The security of our products designed specifically for the DOI and other U.S. government agencies have been independently tested and validated by U.S. cybersecurity consultants, U.S. federal agencies including the Department of Interior and the Department of Homeland Security, which proves today’s decision has nothing to do with security.”
The issue of drone security was first widely raised after an unclassified U.S. Department of Homeland Security memo from August 2017 was widely released that alleged that DJI was “providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government…(and) is selectively targeting government and private-owned entities within these sectors to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive data.” DHS also alleged that DJI was leveraging its lower manufacturing costs “combined with illegal dumping tactics” to give it monopoly power in the U.S. “As a result, U.S. companies have fewer options and are more likely to purchase DJI UAS.”
DJI has consistently denied that data from its drones could be used for espionage. To quell related concerns, in July 2019, the company released its “Government Edition” drone technology, built on architecture the company says ensures that drone data—including photos and videos captured during flight—never leave the drone and therefore can never be shared with unauthorized parties, including DJI. “DJI Government Edition allows government agencies to serve the public more efficiently and effectively using the industry’s most widely adopted drone technology while maintaining total control over their data,” said Mario Rebello, DJI's vice president and regional manager of North America.