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FCC‘s Carr Says Drone Maker DJI Should Be on Suspect Tech List

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr
Brendan Carr (Image credit: FCC)

Federal Communications Commission member Brendan Carr has called on the agency to add DJI, a major Chinese drone company, to its list of suspect tech companies for which federal dollars can't be spent due to the perceived national security threat, characterizing DJI as a potential “Huawei on wings.”

The Republican commissioner‘s remarks came at an event appropriately titled “Unacceptable Risk: Expanding the FCC’s Covered List to Reflect Reality.”

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The Huawei reference is to one of the first two Chinese telecom equipment companies — ZTE was the other — placed by the FCC on a list of tech being disallowed or scrubbed from U.S. networks funded with government subsidies. The FCC is also considering whether to extend that ban to networks not built with government dollars.

The Tuesday (Oct. 19) event was hosted by the also appropriately named China Tech Threat.

The company immediately defended the security of its technology.

“DJI drones are safe and secure for critical and sensitive operations," said Adam Lisberg, director of corporate communications, North America ,for JDI. "Our systems are designed so customers never have to share their photos, videos or flight logs with anyone, including DJI. The data security architecture that protects this information has been repeatedly validated by U.S. government agencies as well as respected private cybersecurity analysts. Our customers know that DJI drones remain the most capable and most affordable products for a wide variety of uses, including sensitive industrial and government work.”

Carr pointed out at the event that DJI has more than 50% of the U.S. drone market and pointed to research that found “large quantities” of personal information from a drone operator's smart phone could conceivably be relayed to China from the drones.

He said the prospect was particularly troubling given that the Chinese government can compel DJI to help it spy on the U.S. or other countries. The Commerce Department has raised red flags about the company related to China‘s surveillance of its ethnic Uyghur minority.

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Add to that the reports that the Secret Service and FBI have bought DJI drones, and Carr said the need for quick action is clear.

Carr has long called for cracking down on Chinese tech in U.S. networks, which the FCC is in the process of doing, including by funding the ripping and replacing of tech in current networks, generally smaller ones where tech companies like Huawei and ZTE can offer cheaper equipment due to subsidies from the Chinese government.