FCC Commissioner Calls For Chinese Drone Ban

Brendan Carr says DJI drones pose a national security threat

Commissioner of Federal Communications Commission Brendan Carr (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
October 19, 2021

The leading Republican on the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday called for a ban on a Chinese drone manufacturer he says poses a threat to national security.

Commissioner Brendan Carr said the FCC should begin the process of adding DJI to the agency's "Covered List," which would bar federal entities from purchasing the Shenzhen-based company's drones. Carr noted several intelligence reports warning Chinese government actors may have access to video footage and software data recorded by those drones. DJI supplies 50 percent of drones purchased in the United States, including drones recently purchased by the FBI and Secret Service.

Carr's comments mark the latest push by China hawks to cut Chinese manufacturers out of critical sectors of the economy. Lawmakers including Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) have called for strict bans on federal use of Chinese technology, citing concerns that Chinese intelligence may have access to data. China's 2017 National Intelligence Law allows Communist Party officials to access any data held by Chinese companies.

Several federal agencies banned the use of DJI drones following a 2017 Department of Homeland Security report that found the company likely provides sensitive U.S. data to the Chinese government. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act largely barred the Department of Defense from purchasing the drones, and the Department of the Interior grounded its fleet last year over security concerns. A Carr staffer said the FCC is already required by law to add companies to its Covered List if national security agencies determine they pose a national security risk. In comments to the Washington Free Beacon, Carr called on the FCC to work more closely with national security agencies.

Last year, the Department of Commerce added DJI to its "Entity List," meaning special licenses are required for the import of DJI products. The department said DJI was added for having "enabled wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance, and/or facilitated the export of items by China that aid repressive regimes around the world, contrary to U.S. foreign policy interests."

The FCC could soon bar companies on the Covered List from operating in the United States regardless of whether federal dollars are involved. Five Chinese companies, including telecommunications giant Huawei, are already on the FCC's Covered List.

"We do not need an airborne version of Huawei," Carr said.