Chinese drone maker denies US allegation of spying for China

Chinese drone maker DJI disavowed the allegation from a US government office that its commercial drones and software may be sending sensitive information about American infrastructure back to China, The New York Times reported on Nov. 29.

According to The Times, the allegation came from the Los Angeles office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau, also known as ICE. It was dated in August but only recently had begun to circulate online.

It said officials had “moderate confidence” that DJI’s commercial drones and software are “providing US critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.” It cited what it called a reliable source, who it did not identify, in the drone industry “with first and secondhand access.”

In a statement, DJI said the report was “based on clearly false and misleading claims.”

“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 company said.

A DJI spokesperson told The Times that drone users have total control over whether and to what extent they share data with the company, and the automatic function to store user flight logs can also be turned off.

DJI dominates the overall drone market, with a nearly two-thirds share in the United States and Canada, according to Skylogic Research, a drone research firm.

The report said that the ICE memo focused on the professional drones used by companies and institutions, not the drones flown by hobbyists in the United States and elsewhere.

According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, a US Army memo directed its members to immediately stop using all DJI products due to cybersecurity concerns, while the data security of the company has been proven reliable by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an organization also engaged in frequent use of drones.

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