FCC calls for blacklist of Chinese drone company

On Balance with Leland Vittert

(NewsNation Now) — Thinking about buying your loved one a drone for Christmas? You might just want to think twice about that. A new warning from the Federal Communications Commission is calling for restrictions on Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology CO., the world’s largest drone maker. 

On Tuesday, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr urged the agency to add DJI to the so-called “Covered List” that would prohibit U.S. Universal Service Fund money from being used to purchase its equipment. Carr described the company as a potential “Huawei on wings.”

The Trump administration placed Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications and electronics company, on a blacklist in 2019, over concerns that the company’s technology could be used to aid Chinese government espionage efforts. Carr says something similar could happen with these drones.

“These DJI drones are collecting vast quantities of information,” Carr said on NewsNation’s “On Balance.” “They collect an amazing amount of sensitive information, they can remotely check people’s body temperature, their heart rates, (we’re) talking about really sensitive data that’s at risk here.” 

DJI, which accounts for more than 50% of U.S. drone sales, said its “drones are safe and secure for critical and sensitive operations … 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 noted these drones have posed a national security threat to the U.S. in the past.

“Back in 2017, a DHS field office issued an intelligence bulletin saying it’s likely that information from these drones is going back to Beijing. You have the Department of Defense that has largely, with some exceptions, grounded their fleet of DJI drones.”

Carr also said that the DJI was added by the U.S. Commerce Department to the U.S. government’s economic blacklist and the U.S. Interior Department grounded its fleet of drones.

Overall, Carr believes that there is enough data to put these drones on the covered list. He says putting them on the list will help the U.S. in the long run.

“In the long term, we’re [the FCC] looking at taking our covered list in prohibiting those devices from operating in the U.S. altogether. In fact … just today the House passed a bill that would give the FCC authority to do exactly that, that if there is anything on our covered list, they can no longer operate in the U.S.”

He said the FCC in consultation with national security agencies “should also consider whether there are additional entities that warrant closer scrutiny.”

“This is very serious, this path that we’re heading down, but I think it’s appropriate.”

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