Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Forget about the TikTok ban; now the U.S. might ban DJI

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The DJI Mavic 3 Classic top view in flightAndy Zahn / Digital Trends

The specter of a U.S. market ban is once again looming over DJI, the biggest drone camera maker in the world. “DJI is on a Defense Department list of Chinese military companies whose products the U.S. armed forces will be prohibited from purchasing in the future,” reports The New York Times.

The defense budget for 2024 mentions a possible ban on importing DJI camera gear for federal agencies and government-funded programs. In 2021, the U.S. Treasury Department put DJI on a list of companies suspected of having ties to the Chinese military and alleged complicity in the surveillance of a minority group, culminating in investment and export restrictions.

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In 2024, Congress is aiming to put DJI on the Federal Communications Commission Covered List, which would ensure that the company can no longer operate on the country’s communication infrastructure. Inclusion on this list effectively banned Huawei and ZTE telecom gear from the U.S.

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The bill – which goes by the name Countering CCP Drones Act – has already received bipartisan support and stresses the national security risk posed by the company. The bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and also points out security vulnerabilities uncovered by researchers.

DJI’s Mini 4K drone DJI

“Our legislation will further protect our communications equipment while strengthening American supply chains by ensuring foreign-manufactured technologies that pose serious security threats, such as DJI’s, cannot operate in American networks,” notes Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL).

DJI, on the other hand, continues to refute the allegations. “The lawmakers driving this legislation continue to reference inaccurate and unsubstantiated allegations regarding DJI’s operations,” the company wrote in a clarification shared earlier this year. The company has also categorically denied that it is a Chinese military company.

The DJI trajectory, interestingly, mirrors that of TikTok. The social media app has been banned in multiple states, where government employees are prohibited from using it. Earlier this week, President Joe Biden signed a bill that would ban TikTok unless it is sold to an American company.

The remedies are conflicting. Reuters reports that parent company ByteDance would rather shut down the app entirely for the U.S. market instead of selling the assets to a local entity. According to The Information, ByteDance is exploring a potential sale of TikTok, but without the underlying algorithm that makes it appealing to users.

Experts, as well as enthusiasts, have flagged serious concerns about a potential blacklisting that would essentially render DJI drones useless in the U.S. The major contention is that there’s no other company that makes drones of the same quality and with the kind of advanced features

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