The DJI Blacklist and How It Affects You

By Pilot Institute
Posted on April 25, 2023 - 5 minute read

In the last couple of weeks, there was a lot of talk revolving around the new law passed in Florida that effectively restricts the use of DJI and Autel drones for government agencies. Although this is merely an extension of the blacklist implemented by the U.S. Department of Defense, having the same law enacted at the state level makes it feel a little closer to home for some drone pilots.

With this development, many drone pilots have expressed concern about whether they can continue to use their DJI drones. How does this recent legislation affect drone pilots?

The U.S DOD blacklist

In late 2022, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) came up with a blacklist of 13 Chinese firms with alleged ties to the Chinese military. Drone manufacturer DJI was part of this list. This was only the culmination of a years-long saga that has seen the DoD banning DJI drones from official use since 2018.

A few months prior to the blacklisting of DJI, the Defense Innovation Unit (DUI) and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment published a Blue sUAS List. This is a list of approved drone models based on a vetting process that makes them cleared for use by the DoD.

The “Blue List” initially included only four drone models but has since grown to a little more than a dozen. The updated Blue List is available on the DUI website.

A few other US government agencies had banned the use of DJI drones, including the US Department of Commerce and the US Treasury. Aside from the alleged ties of the drone manufacturer with the Chinese military, the agencies also cited the use of the company’s technology in the surveillance and repression of the Muslim Uighurs as a reason for the bans.

Through the years, DJI has denies all these allegations and fought against the blacklisting by US agencies. However, the blacklist remains in place and is seemingly being adopted by state governments.

Blacklisting drones at the state level


In April 2023, a new law was passed in Florida that effectively bans the use of both DJI and Autel drones for local government agencies. The state is now only allowing drones from selected brands, particularly the same brands that feature in the Blue list of DUI.

Florida is not the only state that has made moves to ban the use of drones manufactured by Chinese firms. Senate Bill 2853 from Mississippi is proposing that all state-purchased drones should be manufactured in the U.S. by American-owned companies. Agencies in Texas are also drafting guidelines for a “Model Security Plan for Prohibited Technologies” that will prohibit the use of specific hardware or software.

Reception to the Florida law has not exactly been warm. With the new law, the ban on DJI and Autel drones applied to law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and emergency responders. This became problematic because more than 90% of drones used by these agencies are either of the DJI or Autel brand. The state also did not provide the funding needed to replace the drones that the new law had rendered unusable. This has severely compromised the capabilities of emergency response units.

How does this affect you?

The ban on Chinese-made drones only applies to government agencies and the contractors who work for them. If you’re flying a drone privately or recreationally, then this ban has no effect on you. You can continue to fly your DJI drone, or even buy new DJI drones in the coming years.

Commercial drone pilots may need to keep an eye on this developing situation. The ban on DJI and Autel drones also extends to any contractors that can potentially be hired by these government agencies. If you don’t have a drone that is on the approved list, then you may be locked out of potential jobs.

This is somewhat problematic because most of the high-quality and inexpensive drones are manufactured by DJI. This is the main reason why lots of government agencies and universities with limited budgets have drone fleets mainly comprised of DJI drones. Commercial pilots who wish to win government contracts will also need to buy more expensive drones from a limited range of approved models.

Is there an actual security threat associated with DJI drones?


A major reason behind the banning of DJI and other Chinese brands is their supposed ties to the Chinese military, which can be exploited to leak private or sensitive data from users. This can be a valid concern, considering how drones are increasingly being used for applications relating to public safety or national security.

However, this begs the question – is there any basis for such allegations? DJI has naturally denied any ties to the Chinese military and has vouched for the data privacy of their drones.

In 2022, German testing and certification firm TÜV SÜD conducted an audit of the security features and implementations of DJI consumer and enterprise drones. According to the results of the study, the German firm gave assurance that DJI drones have security features that comply with the current standards of practice, namely NIST IR 8259 and ETSI EN 303645. Moreover, data from DJI drones are encrypted and transmitted through SSL, which can avoid the most common security risks.

 Other firms have also conducted independent security audits of DJI drones. Audits done by PrecisionHawk and FTI Consulting in 2020, and by Kivu in 2018 have yielded fairly similar conclusions. The audits found no evidence that data from the drones were being deliberately transmitted to a remote server without the knowledge and control of the user. Moreover, the audits stated that there are methods for drone users to have more control over the data they generate and whether the data will be transmitted to a remote server.

The existence of these audits may not necessarily influence the decision-making process on creating legislation around drones and which brands will be allowed for official use. However, interested users may want to go through the audit results for their own peace of mind.

Final thoughts

With the recent banning of DJI and Autel drones by the state of Florida, many drone pilots have expressed concern over whether they should still continue to use or buy drones from these brands. The only answer we can provide is that it depends on how you use your drone and whether you plan to offer commercial drone services to government agencies.

As drones become increasingly prevalent in critical operations, their security and privacy features will undoubtedly be more scrutinized. However, market forces are also at work – the brand that can deliver on quality and affordability will still have an advantage. How these factors become considered in the U.S. legislation is something we will be keeping an eye on in the coming months.

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