Proposed Chinese Drone Ban California SB 99


Senator Umberg Adjusts Proposed Bill in Response to Law Enforcement Concerns Over Operational Impact

By DRONELIFE Features Editor Jim Magill

A California state lawmaker, who had introduced a bill to prevent local law enforcement agencies from purchasing Chinese-made drones, said he plans to ease the restrictions in the proposed legislation after getting pushback from police agencies that operate such drones.

As originally proposed, Senate Bill 99, put forward by State Senator Tom Umberg would have prevented law enforcement agencies from obtaining “military equipment,” including drones, if the equipment is prohibited from purchase by branches of the U.S. armed forces.

The legislation is aimed at preventing police agencies from buying drones and related equipment manufactured in the People’s Republic of China, especially DJI products. In a statement announcing the introduction of the legislation on June 19, Umberg said current state law police agencies are allowed to purchase DJI products, despite growing fears that they might present cybersecurity risks.

“Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that cybersecurity researchers have found that Beijing could potentially exploit vulnerabilities in an app that controls the drone to gain access to large amounts of personal information,” he wrote. He also noted that the Pentagon has banned the use of DJI products and those of other Chinese drone makers.

Law Enforcement Response to Proposed Chinese Drone Ban in California

However, in an interview with DRONELIFE, Umber said that after filing SB 99 he has heard from a number of law enforcement agencies expressing concern that about the bill’s potential adverse impact on their drone operations. For many California law enforcement agencies, DJI products form the backbone of their drone operations.

“The law enforcement officials that have called me, including a number in my own area, I think that they have legitimate concerns,” Umberg said. “And, what I’m trying to do is address those concerns by, for example, delaying implementation or providing an opportunity for them to, in essence, cleanse the drones from software that may be used to transmit information to places that are unintended.”

The legislation is scheduled to come up for hearing before the State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, July 2. Umberg said he plans to introduce a draft amendment to the bill that would accomplish two things.

It would delay for two or possibly three years the implementation of the legislation; and it would clarify that police agencies would still be able to use currently owned DJI products, providing that they modify the software to ensure that the drones would not be able to transmit data other than to the police agency itself.

Umberg said he believes that the law enforcement agencies that had expressed concerns over his bill would ultimately accept the compromises he plans for offer.

“I would expect that they’ll find them to be okay. I don’t expect that at any point they’re going to be joyous, but what we want to do is, we want to make sure that our domestic fleet of drones is in line with our national security concerns,” he said.

Under current state law, a law enforcement agency is required to seek the approval of a governing body — in the case of a municipal police department, a city council — before purchasing military equipment. SB 99 adds the provision that such a purchase could only be made if “the United States Armed Forces has not been prohibited by federal law or regulation from purchasing the military equipment from the manufacturer or seller.”

In 2018, the Department of Defense issued a ban on the purchase and use of all commercial off-the-shelf drones, regardless of manufacturer, due to cybersecurity concerns. The following year, Congress passed legislation specifically banning the purchase and use of drones and components manufactured in China.

Umberg said that as a matter of national security, his proposed legislation would bring law enforcement agencies in the state into compliance with DOD standards, by eliminating the purchase of Chinese-made drones.

“So, I think at the end of the day, law enforcement will be OK with whatever the law that we enact is, because they share our concerns. They don’t want to be transmitting sensitive, valuable information, for example, to the Chinese government.”

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Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.



Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


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