DJI — one of the largest and most popular drone companies in the world — has been added to the US Department of Commerce’s “Entity List,” designating the Chinese company as a national security risk and banning US-based companies from doing business with DJI. Reuters first reported the news, citing a conference call with a senior commerce official.
The ban was put in place through the same mechanism as the US government’s ongoing ban on Huawei products, and it will make it extremely difficult for US stores like Best Buy or Amazon to directly sell DJI products. US businesses will also face severe difficulty in providing parts or components for DJI to use in its drones. The ban is set to go into effect when the list is officially updated at 11:15AM ET.
Surprisingly, the Commerce Department is reportedly citing human rights concerns over DJI’s involvement in providing drones to the Chinese government as the rationale for the ban, instead of security concerns, per DroneDJ. DJI drones have been used to surveil Uighurs in the Xinjiang province back in 2017, per a Bloomberg Businessweek report.
But the United States government has also cited several concerns in the past over security issues with the drones, which are largely made in China and contain Chinese parts. The Department of the Interior has announced plans to ground its drone fleet as it reviews whether there are any major security concerns of Chinese spying or cyberattacks. And the Department of Justice banned buying foreign-made drones — which includes DJI’s products — using agency funds back in October, citing similar security concerns. The Department of Defense has certified several other drones from competitors like Parrot and Skydio for governmental use instead, after several years of review.
It’s a significant escalation in President Trump’s ongoing efforts to block Chinese tech companies from operating in the United States. Trump placed Huawei on the entity list by executive order in May 2019, citing national security concerns. Europe and the UK have largely declined to follow suit and continue to use Huawei hardware in their telecommunications networks. Trump took similar measures to block TikTok and WeChat from being hosted in US app stores, although the efforts were held up by court challenges and both apps remain widely available.
It is unclear whether President-elect Biden will continue these policies after taking office on January 20th.
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