According to The Wall Street Journal, surveillance cameras made by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd. (Hikvision) can be seen all over the U.S. on streets, in homes, businesses, and even on army bases. The cameras, at one point, were used to keep watch on the U.S embassy in Kabul.
Carolyn Bartholomew, Chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said the presence of these surveillance cameras at U.S. military installations and in a highly sensitive U.S. embassy was alarming given that they may be used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans, and that it is crucial for U.S. security equipment vendors to refuse to carry Hikvision products or to restrict their purchase. The General Services Administration has since removed Hikvision from the list of automatically approved suppliers.
In May this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team issued a cyber-security alert saying some Hikvision cameras had security holes that could easily be exploited by hackers, and gave the equipment its worst security rating.
Hikvision responded by saying that their equipment is safe and secure, and that they are unable to access or extract information from the equipment in any way. The company also said that most of its products are sold through third-party vendors, so they do not know their final destination.
Hikvision is closely related to the Chinese government
Hikvision was born half a century ago from a Chinese government laboratory to develop military and industrial technology. The company’s largest shareholder is the state-owned defense and military electronics manufacturer China Electronics Technology Group. Some of the company’s top executives also hold positions in the government. Hikvision’s vice-president Pu Shiliang is the Head of R & D for the company, and is also the technical director of a key laboratory at the Ministry of Public Security.
In 2001, Hong Kong billionaire Gong Hongjia funded the establishment of Hikvision. At that time, the Chinese government held a 51 percent stake in the company. That level has dropped in recent years, but at present, over 42 percent of the shares are still held by state-owned entities.
In 2015 and 2016, the company received a large amount of loans from two of China’s three policy banks (the banks responsibile for directing government spending for state-investment projects). During this time, the company’s surveillance cameras were deployed on a large scale across the country, helping authorities monitor the 1.4 billion Chinese people.
Former British intelligence official: Surveillance cameras can do “sinister things”
At present, Hikvision has become the world’s largest manufacturer of surveillance cameras. Voice of America had previously reported that the company’s products are spread across more than 100 countries and regions around the world, triggering concern from the international community.
Edward Long, a former employee of a video surveillance equipment company in Florida, petitioned the U.S. government in 2015 with a letter of warning that Hikvision cameras were sending information back to China. “Once these devices are connected to the network, all of your data will be sent back to China’s three data servers. With this information, the Chinese government can log in to any monitoring system at any time.”
Nigel Inkster, a former senior MI6 manager with the British intelligence agency, told The Times that these surveillance cameras could be used to do “sinister things” once the network function was enabled.
Translated by Chua BC and edited by Mikel Davis.