U.S. municipalities and school boards have been bypassing a Pentagon blacklist of companies with connections to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in order to purchase thermal cameras and other surveillance equipment from Hangzhou Hikvision and Dahua to install measures to combat the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, according to a report.
In a May 24 article by TechCrunch, several contracts between U.S. local governments and various vendors hawking blacklisted wares were uncovered. State and city-level governments and entities are able to get around the blacklist so long as they purchase the Communist Party’s surveillance equipment without using federal funds.
Fayette County Board of Education in Georgia spent $490,000 on Hikvision’s thermal imaging equipment for the purposes of creating body temperature checkpoints in schools. According to a September of 2020 report by IPVM, the Board decided to purchase equipment without a “blackbody,” a crucial calibration tool in thermal imaging solutions.
Hikvision’s equipment without a blackbody is rated accurate within 0.9 degrees fahrenheit, compared to 0.5 degrees with. IPVM’s own testing “shows that without a blackbody, accuracy is typically reduced to within ±1.0°F to ±1.5°F, significant enough to result in false alarms and missed elevated temps.”
The problem of accuracy is so widespread that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a public alert in March cautioning the use of thermal imaging devices in the installation of pandemic measures, “While thermal imaging is not an effective diagnostic device for COVID-19, it can determine if someone has an elevated temperature, which can be an important risk management tool during the pandemic when used properly.”
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“But improper use and marketing of thermal imaging systems may lead to inaccurate temperature readings and pose a potential danger to public health,” said the FDA.
When TechCrunch reached out to Fayette’s Board of Education for comment, they only received a canned statement saying the equipment was purchased through the Board’s “longtime security vendor.”
Research also found Nash County in North Carolina spent $45,000 on Dahua thermal cameras. A county manager would confirm only that the equipment was installed in public schools.
The City of Hollywood in Florida spent $30,000 on Hikvision thermal imaging for the purposes of measuring employee body temperatures. A spokesperson told TechCrunch Hikvision was “the only major manufacturer with a viable solution that was ready for delivery; would serve the defined project scope; and was within the project budget.”
In April, Hikvision released its 2020 Annual Report, where it listed the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) as its “Actual Controller.” The Australian Strategic Policies Institute (ASPI) lists CETC as a “very high risk for being China’s leading military electronics manufacturer.” ASPI calls CETC “one of the world’s largest defense companies.” noting several cases of intellectual property theft and that the entity “provides technology used for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.”
A May 30 report by Epoch Times found Hikvision has been used in the CCP’s notorious Skynet and Sharp Eyes technocracy deployments.
Hikvision Chairman Chen Zongnian, also a representative of CETC’s 52nd Division, is a formal CCP representative within the company. Hikvision also used to show its Communist Party affiliation through regularly posted updates about “upholding and improving the CCP’s leadership” on its website.
According to a translation from China’s Military Aviation Research media outlet, CETC is the only electronics-based military industrial complex in the nation, and is responsible for supplying “all Chinese armed forces, including telecommunication systems, radar, software, hardware, command and control systems, and surveillance systems that cover the ocean, aerospace, cyberspace, and other areas.”
Yet on May 25, a Wall Street Journal article said the publication contacted Hikvision for comment, where they were told by a spokesperson that “Not now, and not ever, has Hikvision conducted research and development work for Chinese military applications.”
The company claims if there were instances of military R&D, it was done by employees only in their personal capacity.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, summed up the root of the concern in using PLA surveillance equipment in comments given to TechCrunch, “No company from the People’s Republic of China is truly ‘independent.’ So, when these American entities buy this equipment, they should know that not only are they supporting companies facilitating repression in China, but that the data gathered via this surveillance gear can be shared with the Chinese Communist Party.”
It’s not only the United States where the PLA’s surveillance equipment is being installed in government offices and schools. In September of 2020, UK-based The Guardian reported Hikvision cameras were installed in everything from leisure centers to public schools.
At Smithdon High School in West Norfolk, administration decided to go as far as to install the cameras in school toilets, saying the purpose was to prevent vandalism.
In February of 2020, shortly after the Trump administration added Hikvision to its Entity List, the Boris Johnson government’s Home Office decided to let the CCP’s purveyor of surveillance equipment attend the Security and Policing trade fair, an event billed as “The official UK Government Global Security Event.”