Hikvision and Dahua have faced a series of trade restrictions in the U.S. due to their alleged role in the repression of the Uyghur Muslims and other minority groups in Xinjiang, north western China.
In October 2019, both companies were added to the Department of Commerce’s ‘Entity List.’ The Bureau of Industry and Security states that “transactions of any nature with listed entities carry a ‘red flag'” and U.S. companies must now receive a special license to sell to either Hikvision or Dahua.
According to the ruling, the two companies “have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups” in the Xinjiang region.
The decision followed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act which prevented either company from selling their equipment to U.S. federal agencies.
More recently, Norway’s Council on Ethics recommended excluding Hikvision from the country’s wealth fund investment portfolio because of the company’s “role in the mass surveillance of the population in the Xinjiang region of China.”
In its 2021 report, the UK Foreign Affairs Committee called for a ban on Hikvision operating in the UK among measures intended to “pressure the Chinese government to end its persecution of Uyghurs”.
According to a report by IPVM, Hikvision “is financing around $145m worth of Xinjiang police video surveillance projects” and both companies have faced accusations that their technology can be used to automatically detect Uyghurs.
Hikvision has stated that it “takes global human rights very seriously”. A spokesman told Reuters that “all our business is required to align with the company’s compliance policy” but declined to say what its compliance policy was beyond that it was in line with local laws.
Dahua have similarly claimed that the company “adheres to the business code of conduct, and follows market rules as well as international rules.”
Hikvision has also come under scrutiny from a UK government committee investigating the use of forced labour in Xinjiang. Hikvision submitted a written statement rejecting any suggestion they might be involved in such activities.
As well as the human rights concerns, both companies have also faced accusations that their technology poses a risk to citizens’ digital security and privacy.
In 2018, a US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report warned:
“Through IoT products and services, Chinese firms may be transferring data from their U.S. consumers to China, where the government retains expansive powers to collect and exploit data with little regard for privacy or ownership concerns.”
Dahua has also been described as “terrible at cybersecurity”, and Hikvision has been subject to similar criticism.
Most recently, a critical vulnerability affecting Hikvision cameras was discovered by a security researcher in September 2021, who found dozens of models of Hikvision devices could be hijacked remotely without requiring log-in credentials.
These concerns have been exacerbated by the companies’ links to the Chinese state.
Hikvision, or Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd. as it is formally known, is 42% owned by Chinese state investors, while Dahua Technology Company is 2.4% owned by such investors.
More broadly, the degree of autonomy provided private companies in China has repeatedly been called into question.
Despite accusations of enabling human rights abuses and their poor cybersecurity track records, Hikvision and Dahua have been free to rapidly expand around the world.
In the process, they may have compromised the digital security and privacy of millions of citizens worldwide.