The U.S. Division of Interior declared Wednesday that it would ground its line of DJI drones. The decision, which is the result of congressional strain, is the latest transfer in the argument over banning government use of technology-based solely upon “nation of origin”: a direct blow to Chinese companies.
The proposed ban on China-manufactured drones arises from legislation presently under dialogue in Congress. As the U.S. trade conflict with China intensifies, legislation has appeared suggesting that no drones manufactured in nations deemed “non-cooperative” may be purchased by the U.S. government, citing information security concerns. The two pieces of laws proposed are the American Drone Security Act in the Senate and the Drone Origin Security Enhancement Act in the House. The Senate version would restrict all government agencies from buying Chinese drones, the House version refers only to the Division of Homeland Security.
China-based DJI, the largest international drone manufacturer, denies vigorously that data collected by DJI drones is at risk: and has struggled to respond to security issues that don’t refer to any technical requirements or specific technology gaps. The laws represent a move by the U.S. authorities that the U.S. press largely refers to as “getting the Huawei treatment,” a reference to the blacklisted Chinese telecom firm: recent months have seen legislators proposing closer inspection or bans on Chinese video app TikTok and others.
The U.S. Division of Interior move to down its line of about 800 drones is significant. The Division of the Interior (DOI) is tasked with sustaining public lands and has adopted drone technology extensively to help monitor land and deal with firefighting works, flood management, dam reviews, and tracking of endangered species.
The entirety of DOI’s fleet has China-based parts, and DJI makes at least 15%: downing the fleet means blocking crucial programs.