Drones and airborne camera software made by DJI have opened new frontiers for academic researchers in the United States and elsewhere. From mine safety and shark tracking to wildfire recovery and sea turtle behavior, drones have gathered data and images that weren’t previously available, at costs that make them affordable for tight research budgets.
But a provision of a key defense bill that is undergoing negotiations in the U.S. Congress threatens this progress to such a degree that the nation’s largest coalition of higher-education institutions is now warning of the potential harm to researchers and scientific progress should this provision become law.
The section of the House of Representatives’ version of the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021” would bar U.S. government agencies and any entity that receives federal funding, including grants, from using those dollars to buy or use any unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) assembled in China or containing certain parts from China. Congress is expected to finalize this bill before the end of the year.
In a letter to lawmakers, the leaders of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities warned that this proposal would stop researchers across the country from using drones, while doing nothing to enhance cybersecurity or data protection for drones:
“Currently, the U.S. domestic supply chain is not robust enough to make the purchase of UAS affordable or viable for institutions of higher education. While we understand the need for enhanced cybersecurity precautions, with limited to no access to domestic UAS or components of UAS, academic research in this space could be halted. We also caution against utilizing country of origin as a means to verify whether a device or component is safe and secure.” (Source: Pages 4-5 at this link)
As an alternative, the organizations urged Congress to establish a “federal government UAS security policy that standardizes necessary safeguards for procurement and use for drones that address national security needs,” as that “would raise the bar for enhanced security standards across the world.”
For its part, DJI joins these groups and others in its belief that drone users should be able to choose the best aerial system for their needs, with their own preference of data safeguard features, at affordable prices, rather than being constrained by policies that hurt such end-users and are driven by economic protectionism. For more information on how to protect your data when using DJI drones, visit https://security.dji.com/data/overview.