Chinese Drone Maker Tries to Quell Talk of Data Siphoning

Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate are concerned that Chinese drone manufacturers may be transmitting images and geospatial information to Chinese data centers. (image source: Defense Systems and Center for Disease Control)

Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate are concerned that Chinese drone manufacturers may be transmitting images and geospatial information to Chinese data centers. (image source: Defense Systems and Center for Disease Control)

June 29, 2019 | Source: Defense Systems, defensesystems.com, Mark Rockwell, 24 June 2019

After a bruising Senate hearing over drone security issues last week, Chinese drone maker DJI told U.S. lawmakers that some claims made by witnesses were "inaccurate" and "unsubstantiated."

The company sent a letter on June 24 to the leadership of the Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee in the aftermath of a hearing on potential security risks arising from China's increasing dominance in low-cost unmanned aerial vehicles.

"We are deeply concerned that, left unchecked, the unsubstantiated speculation and inaccurate information … will put the entire U.S. drone industry at risk, causing a ripple effect that will stunt economic growth and handcuff public servants who use DJI drones to protect the public and save lives," said Mario Rebello, vice president and regional manager, of DJI Technology North America.

During the hearing, Harry Wingo of National Defense University was particularly critical of DJI. He said the company has a "near monopoly" on drone technology marketed in the U.S. That technology isn't just in the gears and rotors, but also in the image collection and storage systems that take photographs and retain data. He said American geospatial information is transmitted to Chinese data centers at an unprecedented level. "DJI says that American data is safe, but its use of proprietary software networks means how would we know."

In his letter, Rebello called that speculation "simply wrong." He said DJI drones "do not share flight logs, photos or videos unless the drone pilot deliberately chooses to do so."

To drive the point home, along with the letter, DJI said it has a "Government Edition" drone system with hardware and software controls that create a "data firewall for the photos, videos and flight logs created by a drone."

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