DJI, maker of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), has proposed an electronic identification framework for UAS that would allow authorities in the U.S. to identify drone owners when necessary, while also respecting their privacy.

“DJI understands that accountability is a key part of responsible drone use, and we have outlined a proposal that balances the privacy of drone operators with the legitimate concerns authorities have about some drone operations,” says Brendan Schulman, DJI vice president of policy and legal affairs. “This is another example of how the UAS industry is innovating solutions to emerging concerns, and we look forward to working with other stakeholders on how to implement the best possible system.”

Last year, the U.S. Congress directed the FAA to develop approaches to remotely identify the operators and owners of unmanned aircraft, and set deadlines for doing so over the next two years. DJI has outlined a concept in which each drone would transmit its location as well as a registration number or similar identification code, using inexpensive radio equipment that is already on board many drones today and that could be adopted by all manufacturers.

Anyone with the proper receiver could obtain those transmissions from the drone, but only law enforcement officials or aviation regulators would be able to use that registration number to identify the registered owner. This system would be similar to automotive license plates, which allow anyone to identify a nearby vehicle they believe is operating improperly, but which can only be traced to their owner and operator by authorities.

“The best solution is usually the simplest,” DJI wrote in a white paper on the topic. “The focus of the primary method for remote identification should be on a way for anyone concerned about a drone flight in close proximity to report an identifier number to the authorities, who would then have the tools to investigate the complaint without infringing on operator privacy.”

DJI has submitted the white paper to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which is collecting perspectives on how to remotely identify small drones in the U.S. in advance of an FAA effort to develop a consensus approach. DJI says a remote transmission system is preferable to a network that attempts to track or record the location of all drones in real time, which would be far more complex to develop and would expose the confidential information of drone users.

The DJI white paper notes several examples of professional and personal operation of drones in which the operator has a legitimate need to keep their identity and the nature of the operation confidential, such as an energy company using drones to survey the location of a prospective new wind farm.                                                              

DJI’s proposed system for the United States would also protect the privacy of safe and responsible drone pilots, and would prevent professional drone operators from having to share proprietary information about the location and nature of their flights. Given that some drones have been targeted by gunfire and some drone pilots have been threatened with assault despite flying legally, DJI believes it is prudent to allow individual drone owners to avoid disclosing their identities to the general public.

“No other technology is subject to mandatory industry-wide tracking and recording of its use, and we strongly urge against making UAS the first such technology. The case for such an Orwellian model has not been made,” the white paper says. “A networked system provides more information than needed, to people who don’t require it, and exposes confidential business information in the process.”

About DJI

DJI develops drone and camera technology for personal and professional use. DJI was founded and is run by people with a passion for remote-controlled helicopters and experts in flight-control technology and camera stabilization. The company is dedicated to making aerial photography and filmmaking equipment and platforms more accessible, reliable and easier to use for creators and innovators around the world. DJI’s global operations currently span across the Americas, Europe and Asia. Its products and solutions have been chosen by customers in more than 100 countries for applications in filmmaking, construction, emergency response, agriculture and conservation.