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Tester to introduce bill cracking down on Chinese-made drones

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Tester to introduce bill cracking down on Chinese-made drones

Jun 18, 2024 | 9:04 pm ET
By Keila Szpaller
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Tester to introduce bill cracking down on Chinese-made drones
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A quadcopter drone. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Sen Jon Tester will introduce a bill Thursday to crack down on Chinese-made drones in a bid to protect privacy and increase national security.

A version of the Countering CCP Drones Act has had bipartisan support in the U.S. House but has met resistance from the Chinese company it targets, Da-Jiang Innovations.

DJI dominates the drone market in the U.S. and has a powerful lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., according to The New York Times.

Political leaders in the U.S. are worried about spying by China. Tester’s bill would cut off drones made by DJI from U.S. communications infrastructure.

“Defending Montana is my top priority and that means making sure foreign adversaries like China who want to do us harm don’t get a foothold in our country, whether that’s through buying up our farmland or operating in our airspaces like we saw with the spy balloon,” said Tester, a Democrat, in a statement from his office.

In February 2023, Department of Defense officials confirmed a balloon from China was flying over the United States after a couple of photojournalists in Montana captured its image over Billings.

The balloon flew over nuclear warhead sites in Montana before the Biden administration shot it down over the South Carolina coast.

Both Tester, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, and Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines have since sought to hold the Biden administration accountable for addressing national security threats and informing the public about them.

Tester’s office notes his version of the Countering CCP Drones Act would do the following:

  • Add Chinese drone manufacturing DJI to the Federal Communications Commission “Covered List,” which would prohibit the company’s drones from connecting to U.S. communications infrastructure;
  • Require the Department of Defense to determine whether other Chinese drone manufacturers should be added to the list of Chinese military companies operating in the United States; and
  • Establish a grant program for state and local law enforcement agencies to replace their existing DJI systems with U.S.-made drones.

Last year, the Countering CCP Drones Act was introduced by Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York in the U.S. House. Her office said it was passed unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year.

Drones are used recreationally. They also are used by government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service to manage forest fires and other emergencies.

DJI accounts for 58% of commercial market drones in the U.S. and 90% of the law enforcement market in this country, the New York Times reported, citing a former DJI employee and academic study.

“Cheap Chinese drones are flooding the American market, costing American jobs and putting our privacy and national security at risk,” Tester said in a statement. “My commonsense legislation will crack down on Chinese-made drones to bolster our national security, protect Americans’ privacy, and support U.S. manufacturers.”

Tester also has teamed up with Republicans to push bills that prohibit foreign adversaries such as China from purchasing or leasing U.S. farmland, including legislation that’s pending in a U.S. Senate committee.