US Department of the Interior Officially Grounds All of Its Chinese-Made Drones

Yesterday, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior officially signed an order temporarily grounding all Chinese-made drones in the government’s fleet, solidifying a ‘pause’ that was first announced in October and drawing a heated response from market leader DJI.

The official order (embedded below) calls for the “temporary cessation of non-emergency unmanned aircraft systems fleet operations” in order to ensure that “cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed.”

“In certain circumstances, information collected during UAS missions has the potential to be valuable to foreign entities, organizations, and governments,” reads the order. “Pending further guidance based on completion of an ongoing review, the fleet is grounded with the exception of emergency operations described in guidance to be issued by the Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management and Budget (AS – PMB).”

In a press statement posted to the DOI website, spokesperson Carol Danko clarified that this order only applies to “non-emergency operations,” so government drones used for fighting wildfires, search & rescue, and helping with natural disasters “that may threaten life or property,” will remain operational during this investigation period.

DJI has been opposed to these rules from the beginning, and this latest update is no exception. The company quickly issued a statement yesterday saying that it was “extremely disappointed” by the order because it “inappropriately treats a technology’s country of origin as a litmus test for its performance, security and reliability.”

“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,” reads the statement, “which proves today’s decision has nothing to do with security.”

Instead, DJI is accusing the US of using cybersecurity as an excuse to stifle competition and give US-based drone makers a chance to catch up to the Chinese company’s market dominance.

“We are opposed to the politically-motivated country of origin restrictions masquerading as cybersecurity concerns,” concludes DJI, “and call for 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.”

There is no official word on how long this “temporary” ban is set to remain in effect, but it will take a new order from the Secretary of the Interior to overturn it, so for now the answer is “indefinitely.”

Image credits: Header photo by Karl Greif, CC0