This piece was originally published in The Hill.
In March, Arkansas became the latest state to ban the usage of Chinese drones by state and local agencies in response to cybersecurity concerns. The state joined Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee in recently passing bills restricting government agencies’ use of Chinese-manufactured drones, following earlier actions by the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. While some of these efforts cover all Chinese drone manufacturers, many are focused on one company: DJI.
Since its founding in 2006, DJI has grown to control 70 percent of the global commercial drone market today. The company has received investments from the Chinese Communist Party, despite denying it for years. These close ties have led to DJI drones being used to surveil Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The company has also aided Russia in its war against Ukraine by disabling Ukraine’s drone detection software while leaving Russia’s functional.
Despite these abuses, the U.S. government at the federal, state, and local levels is largely reliant on DJI drones. Nearly 90 percent of the drones used by police and emergency service agencies are from DJI. Similarly, my own review of state-level forestry, transportation, and wildlife agencies’ drone purchases found that approximately 80 percent of their drones are from DJI.