The Los Angeles arm of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau (ICE) is claiming DJI is spying for China. In a new unclassified memo, ICE makes some strong assertions that the drone company is willfully operating for Chinese government interests. The memo was released back in August and says ICE “assesses with moderate confidence that Chinese-based company DJI Science and Technology is providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.” Here are just a few key points the report touches on:
- In April 2016, a DJI spokesperson announced in a briefing for Chinese and foreign journalists that the company complies with Chinese government requests to hand over data collected in China, according to the New York Times. The same article stated DJI could also give the government data from flights in Hong Kong. The spokesperson revealed for the moment DJI was uncertain what they would decide to do with the data and which government departments they would give it to because it was a continuing discussion.
- The Chinese government is using DJI UAS as an inexpensive, hard-to-trace method to collect on U.S. critical assets, according to the SOI. The Chinese government directorates most likely receiving the data from DJI’s cloud are the offices responsible for defense, critical infrastructure, traffic controlling, and cyber offense, according to the same source.
- DJI targets key federal, state, and local law enforcement entities through exhibits at trade shows across the United States. These shows are an attractive outlet for DJI to market its UAS since a large number of resellers and product representatives are present at each show. Since 2015, DJI has specifically targeted Sheriff’s Departments and Search and Rescue teams that attended the shows.
- Furthermore, the Chinese government is likely using information acquired from DJI systems as a way to target assets they are planning to purchase. For instance, a large family-owned wine producer in California purchased DJI UASto survey its vineyards and monitor grape production. Soon afterwards, Chinese companies began purchasing vineyards in the same area. According to the SOI, it appeared the companies were able to use DJI data to their own benefit and profit.
UPDATE (12/01/2017 1:45 p.m. ET): A spokesperson for DJI has contacted us and supplied us with several counterpoints and statements that may help clear the air about this story and ICE report.
- The 2016 report was drafted by a brand-new employee who was simply wrong. We corrected what he said immediately – you can read our response here: https://www.dji.com/newsroom/news/dji-statement-on-customer-data-and-privacy
- DJI has no access to customer flight logs, photos or videos unless they choose to share them with us, such as by syncing their flight logs with our cloud servers. When users operating in the United States choose to sync their flight logs, the data goes to servers maintained in the United States by Amazon Web Services (“AWS”) under contract with DJI. No such data for U.S. users is transmitted to or stored on servers located in China or Hong Kong, and DJI does not maintain any servers in Taiwan. DJI does not send data on DJI cloud servers to the Chinese government. Nor does it allow access to such data by the Chinese government. DJI is not aware of any instance in which the Chinese government has accessed user or drone data for operators determined to be in the United States, and DJI never sends such data to the Chinese.We developed our Local Data Mode so customers who need strict confidentiality forwork can ensure their drones never connect to the internet.
- Yes, we market our drones to law enforcement and fire departments because of the unique public safety advantages drones offer to those organizations. DJI wants first responders to use its products to save lives and protect the lives of the first responders. These are precisely the most worthy uses for its products, and DJI fully supports them. (Here’s our report on lives saved to date by drones: http://www.dji.com/newsroom/news/dji-releases-first-count-of-lives-saved-by-drones
- As for the vineyard anecdote … it’s impossible to respond to something like that with zero details attached. But we feel that it really sounds like tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories.
If you’re interested in more of DJI’s side of the story, visit the links supplied in the quote above.
DJI did respond to the New York Times with the following statement:
“The allegations in the bulletin are so profoundly wrong as a factual matter that ICE should consider withdrawing it, or at least correcting its unsupportable assertions.”
The full ICE report is linked below and has a huge amount of detail. If you’re interested in this story and want to dive deeper into it, we suggest you read that memo.
Last Updated on December 1, 2017.