United States bans DJI drones for links to Chinese authorities

A senior commerce official cited human rights concerns against DJI drones.

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One of the most well-known drone manufacturing companies in the world, DJI, has been hit with a ban from the United States Department of Commerce, according to Reuters. The Chinese company's background and links with the Chinese government is a cause for concern, said a senior commerce official during a conference call with the press.

From now on, DJI will be on the department's "Entity List," which is a directory of various companies banned from conducting business and commercial transactions with American firms. The ban went into effect at 11:15 a.m. ET, according to The Verge.

Why DJI? — The ban against DJI sets itself apart from previous Entity List entries as the Department of Commerce cites human rights concerns posed by the company as a reason for its decision. This is presumably related to DJI drones used by the Chinese authorities to surveil the minority group of Uighurs in 2017, as reports indicated. Similar claims were made about DJI drone footage of detained Uighurs in 2019. Warning: the content might disturb some readers.

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On top of human rights concerns, the Department of Commerce is also apprehensive about security issues with the deployment of DJI technology. This isn't out of the norm for the Donald Trump administration; in the past the government has issued security concerns over foreign-manufactured drone technology, including the Department of Justice stepping forward and banning foreign-manufactured drones and relevant parts.

While some officials believe that these foreign drones have the ability to retrieve highly sensitive information and send it abroad, not everyone in the administration sees eye to eye on the matter. Some believe that these drone manufacturers, including DJI, have the technology to help with volatile developments, such as tracking wildfires, following flood trajectories, helping park rangers execute rescue missions, and the like.

Huawei can sympathize — DJI won't be alone in its woes now that the United States has added its name to the infamous Entity List, making it extremely difficult (or expensive) for American companies to buy or sell its parts. Huawei was also hit with severe economic restrictions by the same government.

The development rattled enough Huawei officials to elicit forceful criticism against Trump officials, including the company saying that the American government was "leveraging its own technological strengths to crush companies outside its own borders." This was expected; Trump has been vociferous about getting tough on trade with China, including his never-ending war with TikTok and WeChat. That said, it's unclear whether president-elect Joe Biden will carry this tradition forward.