AUVSI's Stance on Banning Chinese DJI Drones

Now, does not, and I repeat, does not support efforts that would bring about an immediate ban on Chinese drones.

Michael Robbins, Co-CEO AUVSI

Someone has some explaining to do. On February 27th, 2024, the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) held a discussion titled “Supporting Drone Competitiveness for Public Safety Missions“. This is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of uncrewed air systems and robotics. In this discussion, there was a group of prominent experts in the world of UAVs.

DJ Smith's Perspective

For the record, my hero of this meeting was this man right here, Mr. DJ Smith.

“Good afternoon. DJ Smith, I'm a technical surveillance agent with the State . I also run the unmanned aerial and counter UAS assistance program for the department statewide. My standpoint on this is, you know, I think everybody in public safety has the same mindset. We'd buy USA all day long, support USA. We're red, white and blue all the way through. The problem is, the drones just aren't to that aspect yet.”

The dude was a rock star, and it was so nice to see some common sense and someone who did not stand for not getting a straight answer.

Vic Moss's Real-World Experience

Of course, Vic Moss was there, and he always does a great job representing the majority of drone pilots.

“Okay, let me add some real-world experience and realism into that transition period. If you're talking 3 to 4 years, that's basically a hardline ban, because nobody's going to put any effort into training, into an expense, into outfitting a fleet or even starting a fleet, especially first responders.”

Brian Herold's Contrasting Opinion

And this guy right here, Brian Herold, a former employee, was on the other end of the spectrum of panelists. You can let me know in the comments what you think of his position.

“Michael, this is Brian. I'd love to jump in here and frankly, I would ban these things yesterday if I could.”

Mr. Herold, although I'm certain has the best interests of our country's security in mind, obviously doesn't give a second thought to the impact that a ban would have on American providers, businesses, and safety professionals. I get it, security is extremely important, and yes, we need to protect our country from the countless nefarious entities in the world, but it's not as black and white as he would like it to be when it comes to UAVs.

His opinion is so far off the spectrum that it's kind of difficult to take anything that he says seriously. You simply cannot immediately ban all DJI drones, and anyone that thinks that either (a) has very little knowledge about the number of individuals, agencies, and businesses that rely on their use, or (b) has an ulterior motive and is using the guise of safety and security as a means to an end, which happens quite often in this country. Even a transition period that ends in a ban is just not reasonable or even necessary. There are many other ways to protect our data than a country of origin ban.

Data Security and Air Gapping

Vic: “The issue is going to be , right? I think we can all agree that cybersecurity, data security, is really the paramount issue that we need to deal with, whether it's drones or routers or modems or whatever. Putting something out that says, ‘Hey, China bad, US good,' is not addressing the actual issue. There are ways that you can air gap something, you can set up cybersecurity protocols, whether it's a US drone, a French drone, a Japanese drone, Chinese, whatever. If you're connected to the internet, you have the ability to then gather data unless you've got that cybersecurity protocol set in place.”

Let's pretend just for a minute that China was actually gathering sensitive information from every single one of their drones that flies in the , and let's pretend that there is no such thing as local data mode, which I'm not even sure Michael Robbins fully understands, and I'll address that here in just a minute. But say all of that data is flowing freely to the PRC, as Mr. Smith questions, if a drone can be air gapped from the network, then what is the risk?

DJ Smith: “So talking about a ban, I get it. China is not our friend, without a freaking doubt, I get that. The problem is, I'm talking about safety and security from the national security perspective. If we can take that system, air gap it from any kind of cyber issue by running it through a VPN, through Airship or any of the MDM companies, drone-sense or that are out there, and actually air gapping those systems, and it's not touching a network, where else is there a threat matrix that we have to worry about?”

Now, in case you don't know, an air-gapped device is something that has no network or electronic connection to anything. It's a singular electronic device. There is a 0% chance of data mining on such a device, and Mr. Smith asked that question to Mr. Herold twice and he never really got an answer.

DJ Smith: “Yeah, but you didn't answer my question. So, if I can show you that I'm air gapping my system from the network and there's no threat cyber-wise, wherein lies the threat matrix for SLTT using these drones? Because you and I disagree on whether the US drones are just as good now, because they're not.”

DJI Local Data Mode and Internet Connectivity

Additionally, Vic Moss brought up the topic of local data mode. He flies all the time without being connected to the internet, and Mr. Robbins, the Chief Advocacy Officer of AUVSI and host of this meeting, says, “Yeah, but you're still always connecting to the internet, whether it be to update the software or download images. Clearly, you're regularly connecting to the internet.” And Vic basically says, “No, you're not listening, dude. I do not connect to the internet, period.”

Vic Moss: “If we have the internet disconnect, then that's not an issue.”

Michael Robbins: “But you're not connected to the internet though.”

Vic Moss: “I'm sorry, what?”

Michael Robbins: “That's not a realistic proposition. Most drones are connected to the internet either for-“

Vic Moss: “My drones are offline all the time.”

Michael Robbins: “Okay, maybe not all the time, but clearly you're connecting to the internet on a pretty regular basis, either to do a software update, download images-“

Vic Moss: “No, no, I do not download images. That's an opt-in feature on DJI drones. If I want to, I have to opt in to send that stuff. Absolutely, if I want to do that, I don't do that. If I want to update offline, I can put it on an SD card, throw it in the drone. So, I'm not online at that point. That would not be an issue.”

Potential Government Solutions

Here's a question for all of you, and answer in the comments: Do you not think that it would be possible for the American government to have the technology available that could prevent the transferring of data to other countries from pretty much any electronic device?

Is it impossible to think that our government could geofence sensitive areas of infrastructure, critical infrastructure, to prevent China from gathering valuable security data? Oh wait, guess what? DJI drones already do that.

Now, I live in an area that has a high concentration of nuclear weapons and an Air Force base, and I cannot even launch my drone anywhere near those areas. If I'm flying and my drone gets near any one of those areas, it stops in midair, and I cannot fly. I can't even get close to it. So how does that happen? Our government creates those zones and our drones can't fly in them.

So once again, if you don't want sensitive information gathered, geofence the area that has that information so the DJI drone or any other brand of drone can't fly there. Additionally, air-gap all drones that will have authorization to fly in these sensitive areas, thus completely eliminating any risk.

Now, Mr. Herold is a man who makes decisions based on risk. Taking an opponent's chess piece off the table mitigates risk, but aren't we already doing that? But what do I know, I'm just a YouTuber.

AUVSI's Concerning Statements and Actions

Now let me get to the most concerning portion of this talk. Mr. Robbins has been the loudest voice of the AUVSI when speaking about how they are absolutely, 100% unequivocally against any sort of immediate ban on DJI drones, and even advocating for lengthening the suggested transition period for some of the statewide ban proposals that are out there.

It has been his job to ensure that everyone who flies a drone in the United States can rest peacefully knowing that their life, livelihood, and the safety of their communities are not threatened by any sort of country of origin bans on drones. So here are just a few quotes from this one meeting:

“AUVSI is firmly in the middle between those that want to preserve the status quo, which isn't working very well, and those that want to bring about an immediate ban on PRC drones, which would be extremely problematic, as we saw in Florida, which was an action we resolutely opposed.

Michael Robbins, Co-CEO AUVSI

Now, AUVSI does NOT, and I repeat, does NOT support efforts that would bring about an immediate ban on Chinese drones.

Michael Robbins, Co-CEO AUVSI

And we agree that a cutoff, an immediate cutoff from PRC drones would be harmful to those operations, and that's why we oppose the effort in Florida to impose an immediate ban on PRC drones, and that's why we currently oppose similar efforts ongoing right now in , Missouri, , and , and that's why we oppose the Countering CCP Drones Act in the US House of Representatives.”

Michael Robbins, Co-CEO AUVSI

“So again, here are some more facts: nothing AUVSI is supporting would ban the use of PRC drones for or the general public, and any suggestion otherwise is false. And nothing AUVSI is supporting would bring about any immediate ban or immediate end to the use of PRC drones by public safety, and any suggestion otherwise is false.”

Michael Robbins, Co-CEO AUVSI

“As I made clear in the beginning, we don't support anything that would bring about, you know, immediate bans.”

Michael Robbins, Co-CEO AUVSI

He sounds very convincing, right? But now, let's take a look at an email, and I know many of you have already seen this, but it's an email that DroneXL first exposed to all of us, from Elizabeth Sila, who is the Government Affairs Manager from AUVSI, to Senator Wayne Harper from Utah, expressing the support of AUVSI for the bill in Utah that has been filed called SB135.

The Dji Drone Ban - Who Is On Your Side?
 Auvsi?

This bill calls for a complete ban on all purchasing and usage of any drones by a covered entity, namely DJI, and this letter was dated January 23rd, 2024, over a month before the meeting where Mr. Robbins stated several times that they [AUVSI] are in no way in support of an immediate ban on DJI drones.

So we have two possibilities here: either the folks at AUVSI don't talk to each other about policy and political position, or they aren't who they really say they are.

I'm assuming that if we do see a response about this letter being made public from AUVSI, it will include something to the effect of, “Well, it's an issue of miscommunication. Yes, we support this bill, but as we've always stated, we don't believe in an immediate ban on Chinese-made drones.”

But the fact is, SB135 calls for the legislation to be in effect as of January 1st, 2025, about 9 months from now. So not immediately, I guess, right?

Call to Action for Drone Pilots and AUVSI Members

So I certainly hope we do see an explanation from AUVSI, but even if we do, it's apparent that drone service providers, as well as recreational drone pilots, really have sporadic support from anyone at a high level.

Now, one thing that you can do is to check out the Drone Advocacy Alliance website and find some resources to share your thoughts with your legislators.

You can keep watching this channel to stay updated, and you can continue to fly safely, to be a positive advocate for the hobby and the industry as a whole.

Consider supporting this channel and my research by becoming a channel member. Hit the thumbs up if I provided you with anything of value today. Subscribe to become a member of the community. Watch this video right here next for more great video goodness.

Have a great day everyone, and as always, fly safe and fly smart.

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