Fears of Chinese state spying have caused the US government to restrict business with leading drone maker DJI. The federal government has even grounded an entire fleet of DJI and other Chinese-made drones that it had purchased. However, in Europe, governments are turning to DJI in the fight against COVID-19.

DJI is the undisputed leader in the global drone industry. Analysts estimate that it controls about two-thirds of the entire market. But the US government is working hard to curtail the use of the China-based company’s products. In late January, the US Department of the Interior issued an order against the US of drones made in China or built with Chinese-made components. As a result, DOI grounded its entire fleet of about 800 drones, including DJI models.

Security fears

As with its campaign against Chinese telecom company Huawei, the US government asserts that Chinese drone makers pose an unacceptable security risk. As far back as 2017, the Los Angeles office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that it had “moderate confidence” that DJI was providing “infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”

In March, US news outlets reported that the Trump administration was preparing an executive order to ban drones made in China. However, the White House is yet to formally acknowledge such an order.

DJI has sought to counter these fears. For instance, it allows users to deactivate data transmission. The company also says that data from international users is actually stored on servers in the United States, not in China.

DJI gains in Europe

The political environment is much different across the pond. As Nikkei Asian Review reports, European governments have enthusiastically adopted DJI products in their response to COVID-19. For example, cities in Belgium and France have employed DJI drones equipped with loudspeakers to broadcast stay-at-home announcements. They have also used drones to monitor whether people are observing social-distancing rules. Spanish authorities are using DJI’s agricultural models to spray disinfectant.

A different situation in US cities

Despite hostility on the federal level, US local governments have been more receptive to DJI. The company launched a COVID-19 US disaster relief program that loans drones to governments battling the pandemic. Last week, DJI announced that it had already distributed 100 drones to 40 police, fire, and public agencies across 21 states.

The city of Daytona Beach, FL, for instance, has been flying a pair of loudspeaker-equipped Mavic 2 Enterprise drones to announce the closure of public parks. Elizabeth, New Jersey is using a fleet of five DJI drones to warn people against congregating in public places during the state’s stay-at-home order.

What do you think about the potential ban of DJI drones in the US? Is it necessary for national security? Or is it based on unfounded fears? Let us know in the comments.


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