A bill proposed by Wisconsin Lawmakers seeks to prohibit Wisconsin’s “local government units” from possessing or utilizing drones possessing or using drones manufactured or distributed by SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd.
The popular drone manufacturer, better known as, “DJI” produces an Enterprise line of drones that are widely used by state agencies as well as numerous police and fire departments across Wisconsin and the nation. DJI is the market leader in producing easy to use, high quality, reasonably priced, and data-safe small, unmanned aircraft.
The proposed legislation states “no local governmental unit or state agency may operate or otherwise use a restricted drone.” Agencies which already possess DJI drones must submit, “the plan of the local governmental unit or state agency for the disposal of restricted drones.”
Why this legislation would negatively impact public safety
Public safety agencies across the state of Wisconsin have used drones for numerous lifesaving missions. These missions include locating missing endangered persons such as lost children, elderly people and dementia patients. Police agencies use drones to document and reconstruct serious traffic crashes. Fire departments use drones for search and rescue operation, to locate fires, hot spots and guide firefighters away from hazardous situations. Local governments use drones to assist with mapping, land management, to promote tourism, inspect bridges and survey natural disasters. Many Wisconsin agencies have invested significant resources and thousands of hours of training to establish their drone fleets.
Funding sources for drone programs include municipal funds and donations from local citizen groups and businesses. This law would force hundreds of local government agencies, including law enforcement agencies and fire departments to abandon technology which has been widely successful in promoting officer safety and lifesaving applications.
I am a retired police officer and owner of Titletown Drones LLC, a Wisconsin based small business. I started this business following my retirement from the Green Bay Police Department because I view drones as an emerging technology with many lifesaving applications. Most of my customers are public safety agencies, mainly police and fire departments. I provide training and equipment to help them establish their drone programs. I have thoroughly tested all the equipment I sell. Since I am a retired police officer, I stake my reputation on the reliability of equipment I sell. DJI drones make up about half of my annual sales income.
The reason behind this legislation
The proposed law cites cybersecurity concerns targeting technology that is “subject to or vulnerable to extrajudicial direction from a foreign government”, a claim which has been widely refuted by independent cybersecurity experts.
“No evidence of unauthorized data transfers by top Chinese drone manufacturer: study”
Booz Allen Hamilton, which has no business ties to DJI, said it found no evidence of unauthorized data transmissions in its analysis of three drone models used at one point by the U.S. government.
The question of data security has been asked and answered. I’ve had lengthy discussions with my public safety customers about it. Most are unconcerned because any data they have is already available through open records requests. More importantly, there are sufficient safeguards in place to protect data. DJI has implemented a data privacy mode which severs any Internet connection. I have tested this feature and found it to perform as expected. Drone operators also can simply choose to not connect to the Internet. Public safety agencies are aware of the security concerns. They either consider them a non-issue or have implemented mitigation strategies to address it.
I don’t see anyone suggesting we ban the iPhone and yet numerous apps have been found to track users. A better approach is to take steps to secure your data.
I find the concerns of accessibility of drone data ironic considering the FAA’s implementation of the Remote ID Rule which will require all drones to publicly broadcast identifying data by 2023, including the location of the pilot.
The proposed legislation targets technology produced in China. I support the idea of government agencies having the choice to purchase domestically produced technology. Unfortunately, there are few options available with the capabilities they need. There may be a day in the future when US produced drone technology is a viable alternative. Unfortunately, that is not the case now.
Call to action
Senate Bill 868 must not become law. If it does, the results will be devastating and negatively impact public safety in Wisconsin. I suggest that lawmakers meet with public safety officials and anyone who will be impacted by this legislation to get their input.
If you want your voice to be heard on this issue, please contact Senator Roth
Locate and contact your elected official
William Bongle, sUAS Flight Instructor
Owner: Titletown Drones LLC