Is DJI really the ominous data threat to its customers – and even to U.S. national security – as critics claim, or could it instead be the victim of a wide-ranging effort by industry competitors and allied politicians to elevate the company’s favored status with both individuals and undermine companies? Drone buyers? The question has resurfaced with a report this week in US media that rang alarm bells over an alleged “Chinese drone spy threat” that the company’s craft is.
The article was published on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday by Politically, based primarily on confidential information provided by unidentified US Congressional sources and subsequently analyzed by independent observers. Central to what the publication calls “secret briefings to the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce and Intelligence Committees” alleging that “(H)undreds of Chinese-made drones were flying in restricted airspace over Washington, DC.” , were discovered. in the last few months.”
These drones have been identified as being manufactured by DJI – a company blacklisted by several US government agencies over allegations that its drones could leak user data to government organizations in China; it cooperated with Chinese security forces in the persecution of Uyghur minorities; and received funding from government agencies, making it a government partner.
Continue reading: US Department of Defense officially blacklists drone giant DJI after product ban [Update]
Perhaps not coincidentally, Washington officials and politicians who have advanced these human rights and de facto espionage allegations to justify their efforts to marginalize DJI have also sometimes added inappropriate — and potentially revealing — claims that the dominance of the company in both the consumer and business drone markets which is the result of price dumping and other unfair business practices that have hurt US competitors. Mass detention leading to loss is quite a leap.
Report amplified claims from Pols about a DJI drone threat to security
That Politically The piece — while lengthy and struggling to seek out a wide array of drone and security experts to contextualize the alleged DJI drone sightings and related threats in Washington — generally echoes the prevailing tone of suspicion and accusation used in DC has increased over the past two years.
droneDJ Readers are encouraged to read the Politically history, and form your own opinion on the claims – and most importantly, factual evidence – on the tense and politically charged issue, set at a time of abysmal US-China relations. Not all conclusions will hold true, with so much room for interpretation and suspicion influencing views — particularly given Beijing’s human rights abuses, disregard for individual privacy and eagerness to spy on people at home and abroad.
Read: Redux Blacklisted: GOP Lawmakers Target DJI Again
However, skeptics of the increasingly collaborative push to stigmatize DJI drones as clear and present security threats might find their opponents wielding a remarkably broad brush to camouflage the company – but relying on remarkably small, light strokes to convey actual facts paint that could substantiate their allegations.
For now, it seems that just being a China-based company is enough to dismiss the presumption of innocence despite the lack of evidence. Still, it could be a particularly tempting stance for critics given signs that DJI’s market share has fallen from about 70% to nearly 50% since the US blacklist began in 2018.
Even though Politically Taking steps to remain objective by consulting a wide range of sources from diverse backgrounds, the nature of the claims themselves will certainly cause alarm – even if dark-sounding information from officials isn’t backed up by supporting details.
For example, although these sources reported “more than 100 incursions in the past 45 days,” they withheld details of time, locations, or the density of ships in the air. For this reason, PoliticallyThe repeated description of them as “swarms” is speculative at best, as there is no evidence that multiple UAVs were deployed at the same location on a joint mission. An innocent semantic oversight perhaps, but a loaded notion in the public imagination nonetheless.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk about detected drones being hacked or otherwise modified by users to disable DJI’s built-in geo-fencing of restricted airspaces. Given the number of illegal flights involved, there must be a lot of DYI cracking going on — and even more across the country.
Read: DJI is reportedly making strides against US legislation blacklisting drones
Yet this very consideration begs the question: Why would every single pilot behind the hundreds of flights spotted in DC’s prohibited airspace use DJI drones when there are many other brands that would work just as well – some of which not be sold with geodata? Fencing off assets that need to be hacked.
If security officials in the capital were able to spot these UAVs in restricted areas and identify them as DJI products, how come no one had seen the vehicle airborne in Washington’s well-known lockdown skies and reported the potential threat?
“If there were a huge increase in actual flights in DC, I would expect eyewitness accounts and arrests.” tweeted Brendan Schulman, Boston Robotics vice president of policy and government relations. “It’s a densely populated, busy, heavily patrolled city with few opportunities to fly a drone without getting caught.”
As droneDJ As readers know, Schulman previously served as DJI’s vice president of policy. But as a legal and technology expert now fully settled at another company, Schulman is the latest person to act as a decoy for a former employer facing accusations. With politicians and industry competitors keen to hound DJI as its US fortunes plummet, Schulman notes that there’s potential for sleight of hand in the vague claims.
“(A) drone will be ‘detected’ after it is powered on, even if it is unable to take off due to geofencing,” he wrote. “So all it takes to raise concern is for someone to drive around town with a drone powered on.”
US politicians accuse DJI of taking a risk of not passing anti-drone laws against actual threats
Also important to note Politically‘s statement that officials who provided the confidential information do not believe the reported drone flights are “directed by the Chinese government”.
That said, despite the rather lavish dropping of DJI’s name throughout the story, what is proving to be truly troubling for pundits is how these illegal forays into forbidden airspace are mirroring a broader, accelerating tide of drones being irresponsible, illegal and even being used for criminal and potentially violent purposes.
And that takes time Politically to what droneDJ Reporting has repeatedly noted: the apparent disinterest or inability of the same US politicians to make claims and push for an additional DJI blacklist to enact broader, effective legislation to deal with very real and growing UAV threats, which FBI Director Christopher Wray discussed last week in a revealing US investigation into air bomb plans.
Read: The FBI cites bomb-carrying UAV investigations to urge action to counter drones
At least three separate bills outlining the means of detecting and mitigating drone threats have been introduced in Congress — and now lie idle — one of which notes more than 800 annual drone sightings in areas around airports alone.
Similarly, an ambitious White House proposal calls for enhanced UAV countermeasures to be expanded from limited federal agencies to state, local and sensitive infrastructure agencies to respond to potentially threatening flights.
An unidentified contractor quoted by Politically pointed to the increase in legal and irregular drone operations in the US, which is fueling concerns about the increasing risks they pose in general and in light of recent DC reports in particular.
“You will see hundreds of them in the same period, but obviously the biggest difference is that the national capital region is the safest airspace in the world,” the contractor said.
But that’s the real point: it’s not, is it?
Because when, when Politically reports that within two months “(H)undreds of Chinese-made drones were spotted over DC,” this seems to indicate one of two things—possibly both: Either lawmakers are citing these intruders as additional justification for taking action against DJI Have enacted laws allowing officials to detect, but not neutralize, invasive and potentially hostile drones; or they are too focused on using the obvious but blurry semblance of troubling air activity over the capital to facilitate protectionist responses, rather than voting through effective measures to deal with the far broader and growing threat posed by rogue drones .
If this political status quo remains unchanged, its ramifications can resonate far beyond the confines of the DC Bypass, affecting far more nefarious actors and targets than a single corporation that happens to be based in a country that enjoys least-favored nation status is attributed to .
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