The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is continuing its crackdown on Chinese companies on the grounds of espionage and has now picked DJI, the world's largest dronemaker, under the scanner. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has warned that the company is an "airborne version of Huawei", and called for it to be placed on a blacklist.
In a news release on Tuesday, FCC described DJI as a potential "Huawei on Wings." The reference Carr made in his remarks was to when Huawei was blacklisted in the US in 2019 over concerns of espionage. FCC Commissioner suggested that DJI's products could be used in similar ways to aid Chinese government espionage efforts.
"DJI drones and the surveillance technology on board these systems are collecting vast amounts of sensitive data. Everything from high-resolution images of critical infrastructure to facial recognition technology and remote sensors that can measure an individual's body temperature and heart rate," Carr said.
"DJI's software applications collect large quantities of personal information from the operator's smartphone that could be exploited by Beijing. One former Pentagon official stated that 'we know that a lot of the information is sent back to China from' DJI drones," Carr added.
Carr suggested that DJI should be added to FCC's "Covered List", which means the companies are deemed to pose risk to the national security of the United States and its citizens. Once added to the list, products from those companies are prohibited from being purchased with U.S. Universal Service Fund money.
"The evidence against DJI has been mounting for years, and various components of the U.S. government have taken a range of independent actions—including grounding fleets of DJI drones based on security concerns. The FCC should take the necessary steps to consider adding DJI to our Covered List. We do not need an airborne version of Huawei," Carr noted.
We just make drones: DJI
The backlash against DJI prompted a response from the dronemaker. In a detailed blog post, DJI reacted to the criticism it has received. The company said that it has a team of 30 devoted entirely to the privacy and data security features of its products.
"DJI designs and builds our hardware and software so you never have to share your data – not with us, and not with anyone else. We're not a data company; we just make drones," the company said in a statement.
DJI further added that it doesn't collect any location data, mobile data or drone GPS log data and users can choose not to sync their flight logs, photos, or videos with DJI services.
The US FCC had put five Chinese companies on the Covered List for posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law, which is aimed at protecting US communications networks. The companies were Huawei, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co.
DJI was already added on US government's economic blacklist in December by the Commerce Department. In January 2020, the US Interior Department halted purchases of Chinese-made drones and grounded its fleet of about 800 Chinese drones.