DJI Counters Claims That It Is an ‘Unacceptable National Security Risk’

DJI drone

Last spring, a group of United States congresspeople introduced the “Countering CCP Drones Act,” which argued DJI drones posed “an unacceptable national security risk.” This week, DJI published line-by-line counterpoints rejecting that stance.

The Countering CCP Drones Act was introduced in April 2023 by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) of the U.S. House of Representatives who both argue that Chinese law allows the government there to compel DJI to participate in and assist in its “espionage activities,” and as such the company should be added to the FCC’s list of banned communications equipment and services in the United States.

“DJI drones pose the national security threat of TikTok, but with wings,” Stefanik argued in a statement on her website.

“The possibility that DJI drones could be equipped to send live imagery of military installations, critical infrastructure, and the personal lives of American citizens to China poses too great a threat. Allowing this practice to continue in the U.S. is playing with fire. This Chinese-controlled company cannot be allowed to continue to operate in the U.S.”

In 2022, the United States Department of Defense added DJI to its blacklist, classifying it as a “Chinese military company.” Gallagher pointed to this as a step in the right direction that needs to be made broader.

“DJI drones pose a serious national security threat and belong nowhere near the federal government. The Department of Defense has recognized this and acted accordingly, and now it’s time for Congress and the rest of federal government to follow suit,” Congressman Gallagher said.

This week, DJI published a blog post that claims to “address inaccuracies lodged against DJI in the public domain.” The company rejects claims that it collects data on U.S citizens, that it is a “Chinese Military Company,” and that it supports human rights abuses.

“DJI drones do not collect flight logs, photos, or videos — by default. Operators have to opt-in to share this data with us, and those who want to take extra precautions can easily choose to activate Local Data Mode (and even switch on their mobile’s‘ airplane mode’) for added peace of mind. This means the flight app is completely disconnected from the internet and is similar to an air-gapped computer,” DJI says.

“DJI is not a military company. We remain one of few drone companies to clearly denounce and actively discourage use of our drones in combat. DJI does not manufacture military-grade equipment, nor does it pursue business opportunities for combat use or operations,” the company continues.

“DJI has not engaged in any activities that violate or abuse human rights. Just like other manufacturers, we do not have control over how our products are used as they are available off-the-shelf. However, we have demonstrated – through years of investments in product safety and security initiatives — that our products are developed for peaceful and civilian use only.”

DJI Mavic 3 Pro

As far as the claim that it could be compelled to spy for the Chinese government, DJI says it abides by the rules and regulations of the markets its products are used in.

“DJI follows the rules and regulations in the markets it operates in. Like other global technology companies, there may be requirements for DJI to disclose certain information pursuant to local laws and regulations where we operate. For example, DJI may need to disclose information if required to do so in response to a local court order, judicial or other government subpoena, warrant or enforceable request,” the company says.

“Upon receipt of such an order, DJI’s policy is to review the request to check if it meets legal requirements for disclosure. Part of that requirement is that the disclosure would only include data that has been shared with DJI within the national jurisdiction of the government agency requesting it. It is important to note that this only applies to data DJI does have access to — as we have said earlier: DJI does not collect flight logs, photos, or videos by default.”

All of DJI’s statements regarding the claims made in the Countering CCP Drone Act can be read in full on its Viewpoints blog. The company is firmly against the proposed bill and says it will negatively impact the industry and community of drone operators. The company is urging that community to speak out against the proposed legislation.

DJI Zenmuse L2

Last month, Stefanik and Gallagher announced that their bill would advance through committee following a legislative hearing, progress towards a formal vote that likely spurred DJI’s blog post this week.

“The advancement of my legislation the Countering CCP Drones Act is critical for American national security. Communist Chinese drones present a serious national security risk to our country and it is time for Congress to act. Communist Chinese companies that engage in espionage activities and collect sensitive data from American citizens and entities should not be allowed to operate in the United States and this legislation is the first step to prohibiting Chinese drone companies from freely operating on America’s communications infrastructure,” Congresswoman Elise Stefanik says.

Image credits: Header photo by Ryan Mense for PetaPixel