Police, state agencies await approved drone list as deadline looms
Escambia County Sheriff's Office is ready to spread its wings and fly (drones).

drones 02.06.16 (Large)
Data security is among the top priorities for state regulators.

The Department of Management Services is remaining mum on the rollout of a list of drones state agencies and police may operate in Florida.

Under a recently passed bill (SB 44), DMS must create a list of approved drones and publish it online by Jan. 1. The agency, however, has yet to do so, and inquiries from Florida Politics into the selection process remain unanswered.

The ongoing radio silence comes as state agencies and police await further guidance. Under the new law, drone operators must ground drones not featured on the list by 2023 — a requirement that may cost operators thousands.

The list — among other requirements — calls for DMS to select drone manufactures with “safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data collected, transmitted or stored by a drone.” That job, however, is no small task with growing national security concerns around several drone distributors.

One manufacturer in particular, Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI), is under heavy scrutiny from federal regulators.

In October, Federal Communications Commission member Brendan Carr warned the Chinese-made drones pose a “national security threat” to U.S. interests. He described DJI drones as “Huawei on Wings” and called on regulators to add the manufacturer to a blacklist.

“DJI drones and the surveillance technology on board these systems are collecting vast amounts of sensitive data — everything from high-resolution images of critical infrastructure to facial recognition technology and remote sensors that can measure an individual’s body temperature and heart rate,” Carr said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Tom Wright, the bill sponsor, noted the risks in an interview with Florida Politics. He believes, however, that Chinese-made drones are uncommon among Florida’s law enforcement community. The drone proposal, he highlighted, was intended to provide smaller law enforcement agencies an alternative to costly helicopters.

“There are some Chinese made drones that have built into them modems that could transmit information back to somebody that we don’t know is getting it,” Wright said.

According to DJI’s website, the manufacturer has donated drones to 45 police, fire and public safety organizations in 22 states, including two to the Daytona Beach Police Department.

According to News 6, the drones featured loudspeakers designed to disperse crowds during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unclear if Daytona Beach Police still have or use the drones, but News 6 reported the agency hoped to retain them for other uses.

Meanwhile, several federal agencies have stopped using DJI products and the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act banned the United States military from purchasing their products.

Nearly half of all drones sold in the U.S. are made by DJI, according to the FCC.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.


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