Government called to junk 3,000 DJI drones after senator cites "moral risk"

DJI Mavic 2 Pro
(Image credit: Adam Juniper/Digital Camera World)

Politicians in need of an enemy in the US have targeted Chinese drones in general, and DJI in particular. Now Australian cyber security spokesperson Senator James Paterson is jumping on the same bandwagon and driving it to the southern hemisphere.

Paterson has conducted an audit of DJI drones in use in Australia and has been pushing the government to remove them. DJI, to be clear, always denies that it is a military company, saying it "has always opposed combat use of civilian drones." 

• Though decided by politicians, the best DJI drones are excellent

In fact according to Defence Connect, the Australian Border Force had already grounded 41 DJI drones even before Paterson sounded off. 

Tensions with China are on the rise in Australia as well as the US, hence Senator Paterson's comments – which repeat the US government line that DJI had "links to the Peoples Liberation Army." It's a bit vague, based on a law in China that requires cooperation between firms and the government.

DJI was added to the US Department of Commerce's Entity List – a list of companies with represent a concern to US national security – in 2021. That means some branches of US government are forbidden to buy new DJI drones. In the past, we noted that it could cost up to $1 billion to replace the drones in the US that politicians are demanding be removed.

The inference made is typically that DJI products' internet connectivity is used not just for software updates, but to send information back to the company – which is shared with the PLA / Chinese government.

It is also true that the ban in the US has been very useful in securing a market for technically lagging American drone companies. Perhaps James Paterson is thinking of the Australian drone world? 

The other reason cited in America's 2021 Commercial Entity list addition is that "DJI is also deemed to be complicit in human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang." The problem with this statement is that simply manufacturing the drones seems to be the complicity – equivalent to saying if you made the gun, you're guilty of the crime (I invite you to consider the ramifications of that logic if applied to internal American law!).

Senator Paterson in Australia appears to repeat this more-or-less verbatim, with no examination of the position, adding only the number 3,114 – the result of his audit of Australian DJI devices across 38 agencies.

"What I learned is that there are hundreds of these departments, of these drones, not just in the Australian Defence Force, but in the Border Force, in the Federal Police and CSIRO, as you say, across the public service," Paterson told AM Agenda. "In total more than 3,000 of these devices, which represent both the moral risk and the cyber security risk, and that's why they should be grounded."

If DJI is going to be banned anywhere, it might well be in Australia. The country didn't hesitate in banning TikTok or Hikvision.

If you want to read more about how this is shaping up in the US, we covered the last presidential hopeful sounding off about drones. If you're interested in some commercial drones, we've the best thermal drones out there.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Adam Juniper
Managing Editor

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 

He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook